Hathaway Brown School
Instructor: Scott Parsons
The Prism of Modern Classism by Alexa Christopherson
The Prism of Modern Classism by Alexa Christopherson
The Prism of Modern Classism
My whole life I have been told to display gratitude for what I have. I am one of many who are responsible for neglecting their privileges, including aspects that hold much more relevance than what meets the eye. The ability to receive an education, freedom of choice, and a mind that feels every emotion, no matter how positive or negative. Many take these gifts for granted due to self-entitlement and contrasting values, an injustice perpetrated by society's dominating group of power, the wealthy. We are all human beings, regardless of culture, identity, or social status. By forgoing the labels that create a divide, together we can restore the societal hierarchy of value. Throughout this paper, the concept of axiological hedonism through different classes will be illuminated through the lens of New York's wealth divide.
The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald is a highly praised novel for its portrayal of 1920s America through the lens of its crippling society. The story is told during a time predominated with the theory of the American Dream, where all privileged Americans had the opportunity to strike it rich. The rise of the stock market brought about a new generation distinguished by materialism, new money, and an era collapsing in moral and ethical principles, as shown through the yearning for pleasure. Following the life of Nick Carraway, a man with no status thrown into a social circle of old and new money, we are able to observe the dynamic between different social classes.
Class is a significant determiner of values; some may feel 'numb' to certain pleasures they have repetitively experienced therefore deeming them less valuable. Classism is defined as the institutionalized allotment of value based on social class. Whether we like to think about it or not, this shapes policies and laws that favor affluence at the expense of those who are less fortunate. Individuals who are unable to achieve a position of power on these relentless terms have no choice but to be buried by destitution and detached from abundance. Classification solely based on people's ability to make money results in severe income and wealth disparities and the failure to meet fundamental human rights.
The divide between the upper class and the average is represented by a stretch of deserted wasteland that is referred to as the Valley of Ashes. "A fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills'' (19 Fitzgerald). The status of the land demonstrates the darker reality of the surrounding glamor and what occurs in a society where gaining money is valued above all. The natural world's beauty has been reduced to a terrain of gray ashes due to the mass pollution of chemical waste. The privileged were solely concerned with relishing their money and having a good time, away from the country's dismal realities, symbolizing the axiological and societal differences throughout the classes.
Tom and Daisy Buchanan exemplify the stereotypical hedonistic upper class of their generation. The concept of Hedonism includes various groups of ideologies connected by the dominating motive that pleasure guides the actions of humanity. The Buchanan's assume it is their natural right to be entitled to what they want due to the eminence of pleasure their wealth yields. They live luxuriously in the region called the East Egg comfortably believing they are immune to the consequences of their conduct. They are aware of their power to fix many societal issues such as restoring the valley of ashes using their money yet they choose not to. Why do the affluent turn a blind eye to the destruction they create as well as the destruction they can aid but choose not to? Because Money is a drug that over-stimulates a hedonistic state of pleasure. Overstimulation of the brain occurs in addiction. Addiction is a result of hedonism, proving why the wealthy are addicted to the pleasure of material things and distracted from reality. I am not directly concluding that spending money is morally bad; instead, the problem is rooted in the inquiry of unnecessary assets for short-term pleasure.
The brain craves distraction, but once an item's short period of pleasure is over what is left? In order to function normally, all organisms require a balanced biological system known as homeostasis. A copious amount of anything causes alterations in this normal equilibrium even as the brain undertakes modifications to maintain stability. Rich people already have found satisfaction in essentially every material possession that they have the means to acquire, therefore deeming them a lesser value.
Working Americans typically believe that money will bring happiness, yet how is it so that those who seem to have everything they could possibly want are still unhappy? Happiness and pleasure are not the same. Jay Gatsby believed that he would find happiness through attaining wealth but he was instead met by the overstimulation of pleasure. Gatsby was motivated to attain money with the hopes of attracting Daisy Buchanan. "His idea of the good life seems merely to be the acquisition of money, things, property" (Fitzgerald 37) This proves that even though he claims to love Daisy, he views her as 'property'. The untainted love for Daisy drives Gatsby's corrupt pursuit of money, therefore he believes that only after acquiring a profound fortune he is able to obtain her. By placing a higher value on Daisy, Gatsby then expects a larger deal of pleasure to be attributed. The link connecting importance and the level of pleasure derived from its occurrence is complementary. The more pleasure an item attributes, the more value it possesses. Those with many material possessions and financial security brought easily to them do not realize their fortune or privileges because the abundance of pleasure decreases its value. But we must remember that like every feeling, pleasure is a spectrum. Pleasure is the product between an idea and its observer. What satisfies one may elicit no feeling or response within another, meaning, there is no particular stimulus that generates precisely the same reaction in everyone. Pleasure is a mental state of satisfaction.
Every phase of our lives is interwoven with our personal scale of value. We have preferences for certain topics over others, we focus on what we believe is essential, we applaud some behaviors while condemning others, we enjoy and detest certain things, and therefore value our decisions. The conviction that our sensations, ambitions, and behaviors have varying levels of importance assigned to them, lies behind our preferences to what we assign as valuable. Society is plagued with misleading principles that place a high value on materialism while overlooking the ethical understanding of one's ego.
Conventional wisdom claims that in order to be successful it is required that I receive a diploma, go to a college and receive a degree, and fill my resume with countless jobs just for the sake of experience. Perhaps we may understand that there are alternative approaches to view success if society was less materialistic. Perhaps if we began to conceive success in a new way, there would be more occasions when success and happiness were synonymous. We should consider a person a success if they had been compassionate, unselfish, and tried their utmost in school or at work every day, even if their scores weren't fantastic or they didn't make millions, however, many choose not to. We place much too much emphasis on status, wealth, and possessions, and I believe this is preventing many people from being happy. When you analyze the distinction between happy and comfortable, you'll be amazed.