The greatest middle-class illusion

The idea of “deserving” is a curious thing. On the one hand, it fuels forward momentum - when someone believes they deserve something, it helps them motivate themselves and reach out for it. On the other hand, if someone thinks they deserve something even when the thing belongs to someone else, their conviction might help them justify theft and robbery and worse.

The Indian middle-class has been described as “aspirational” by many writers (including this one). And as described, their aspiration makes them go for the things they think they “deserve”. They go for their own houses, they go for higher salaries, they go for cars, better lifestyles and what have you. At the same time, because they are convinced they deserve all these things, they inevitably end up creating categories for people who, in their opinion, do not deserve the things they think they deserve.

Why? Because the number of things that can be acquired is limited. Some people will get them and some people will not get them. And because they need some way to justify the belief that they are indeed deserving of the things they have, they need to create reasons to explain why some people don’t have what they have.

These categories include people from scheduled castes and other underprivileged groups. The middle-class tells itself it works hard and in order to prove it, uses the things it has as evidence. And then, it points at the people who don’t have those things and says that their deprivation is proof that they are not hard-working.

Then, this card is played over and over and over again to maintain the illusion that being deprived is a direct result of not working hard. So even those who are deprived because of our millennia old system of social discrimination - the caste system - start getting called lazy.

Honestly speaking, this disease is not unique to India. Members of the cultural majority in many countries call deprived minorities “lazy” in order to justify their privilege. In addition, they call themselves “the real victim” of social upliftment projects (like Affirmative Action in USA and Reservation in India) because they think it means giving resources to people who don’t “deserve” them.

That, in a nutshell, is the whole game as it plays out in the minds of those of us who “don’t believe in caste” and “are the real victims”. This discontent is then weaponised by unscrupulous politicians to turn the middle-class into supporters of the system that is actually oppressing them. The system that feeds on their dreams to suck money out of their monthly budgets and turns their children into corporate slaves.

Aspiration shouldn’t blind us to reality. But it does. And when that happens, there is always going to be someone waiting to hold our hand and lead us to the edge of a cliff. The poor are not lazy. They are overworked, penniless, and starving. To speak up for them and their right to life and dignity is to speak up for yourself.

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