May 24, 2024

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Defining Classy; a Short, Sloppy but not Wholly Inaccurate History of its Evolution

Defining Classy; a Short, Sloppy but not Wholly Inaccurate History of its Evolution

Phoenix by Jennifer Stewart
In the West, there was a time when Classy was synonymous with class distinction. It was all about lineage, sophisticated social skills, the kind of wealth that stayed in the family, and a gene pool that proved not infrequently to be, over the long run, the fundamental cause of a characteristic commonly referred to as weak in the head and, more recently, creaking stupidity.

Royalty. Landed gentry. Upper crust society. Beautiful manners, gorgeous clothes, glorious homes, power, mobility. The stuff of fairy tales. Now that was class.

Outsiders—the poor, the struggling, the serfs and slaves, the farm workers, soldiers, sailors, tinkers and tailors—all either accepted their place or felt, and were, powerless to change it. Oh, and let’s not forget independent-minded women and anybody who wasn’t white, with the exception of those few notables who heroically managed to penetrate a ceiling made from the building materials fortresses were constructed with.

But something happened in the collective psyche of the outsiders. A lust for a bigger experience, a bigger slice of the pie. Might have had something to do with the fact that it had a sturdier gene pool, a broader mix. Something about that seems to open neurological pathways to creative thinking. 

Boom. The Industrial Revolution. Suddenly yobs with no manners, no refinement, and neither land nor lineage could amass fortunes and buy the trappings of class. Not independent spirited women, people of color or different lifestyle choices or foreign alien religions, though. Let’s never forget that. Nouveau Riche they called themselves. Spurned, of course by the Original Class of Classies, and using outsiders in exactly the same way they’d been used by their masters. Gradually these upstarts developed manners and accoutrements of Class and in many cases married into lineage, because its weak gene pool had left it with land and snobbery but no bucks.

And a populace of poor people living—or barely living—off the land, giving everything of value of themselves to the Classies, became a populace of poor people still barely living, but doing it in the cities. Still giving everything of themselves, but now to the New Classies as slaves, servants, wives, factory workers. Also, for a while, collectively accepting that they had no option. It wasn’t a pretty picture and the environment began to take a real beating too.

Again, though, something happened in the collective psyche of those damn outsiders, the slaves to and enablers of others’ pleasure and good fortune. Maybe it’s really about the spirit of the human never being satisfied with being stuck in the dark ages. Perhaps it’s about the human capacity for good needing to prevail over its capacity for evil. The outsiders became more aware that moving up was a possibility even for them. 

Boom. Unions. Higher wages, access to more ideas, demanding education, finding it, getting it. Well, what a damn mess. From then on it was one boom after another, the cataclysmic collapse of the old order happening from decade to decade. The original Classies’ gene pool completely buggered up. The pestilential concept of “What About Me, What About Them!” spreading like wildfire. Youth, women, people of color, diverse religions, genders, sexual preferences and lifestyle choices making their voices heard, fighting for their rights and those of others, not waiting for permission but insisting that they were equal, caring about accountability and the environment. Never giving up in the face of dreadful persecution in every imaginable application, covert and overt. Desire for decency to prevail became a conflagration impossible to control. 

As the lust for a better experience seared at hearts, souls and minds; as compassion for the exploited, and protest at the exploiters grew; as wealth and access to information became more accessible to so many more; something else happened. Classy began to be synonymous with decency, inner strength, dignity, compassion and respect for others and self, good sense, concern for the environment. 

Nowhere else for it to go, really. Boom. The Phoenix of the human spirit emerging from the ashes. That’s where we are today. Class is not about what you wear, what you earn, what you own, your status, the color of your skin, your gender, your religion or your lifestyle choice. It’s about who you are. Just as the outsiders always thought they were as classy as those they were desperate to be accepted by when the barriers to entry were superficial, today the ethically challenged who have amassed vast fortunes and or power swagger around with great braggadocio, loudly trumpeting how classy they are. Utterly oblivious to how obvious it is to the rest of us that whatever they got, it ain’t class.

These days, no matter what else you have, without class of the soul, the kind that actually counts for something humane, you’ve got nothing. And it shows.