It seems to me that the British class structure colors much of British mentality and their interpretation of the world. In some ways, the British are obsessed with class structure. Its influence can be seen in the development of many things the British pioneered and how they interpreted things.
BEGINNINGS: THE NORMAN INVASION
I tend to feel that much of the British class structure issues originates from the Norman Invasion that begun in 1066. When the Normans took over England they brought over their Norman feudal-like system which clashed with the Anglo-Saxon culture. This conflict created certain attitudes and viewpoints by the Anglo-Saxon’s and have, over the years, turned into a generalized world conception.
I also tend to feel that this was further accentuated, and supported, by Christianity. The Anglo-Saxon’s were Christian for centuries before the Norman Conquest. By the time of the Norman Conquest Christian points of view were common in their life and culture. One of the things that seems common for Christian people to do is to “imitate” the times of Christ when put under some crisis. This seems to create a number of reactions, such as:
- A glorification of being ‘oppressed’. Christ, and the Jews, were ‘oppressed’ by Roman rule.
- The idea of fighting tyranny. Christ’s teaching was primarily a way to fight the tyranny of Rome (teaching that we should all love one another).
In so doing, Christianity actually created a ’cause’ by developing such viewpoints, even though they may not of been accurate or realistic portrayals of what was happening at the time. As a result, Christian belief tended to “force” these interpretations on the affairs of the time, true or not. This created a tendency to a number of points of view such as:
- To have a warped interpretation of things.
- It also tends to create problems that don’t exist.
- It tends to neglect some things, often good things.
What this means is that the Anglo-Saxon interpretation of the Norman Conquest is probably distorted and wrong, despite the “evidence” that appears to be there. They probably took the situation and, ‘forcing’ the Christian viewpoints, distorted it into something that it was not. With this new viewpoint based on Biblical themes there was a tendency to as if ‘exalt’ the Norman Conquest into some great world event and, in some sense, turning it into a religion itself. What this has done is that it has kept alive, so to speak, the Norman Invasion and have made it a significant and influential part of British life and culture.
Some common themes seen in the British class structure mentality include:
- The idea of superior and inferior.
- The idea that the superior people are abusive, corrupt, and power hungry.
- The idea that the inferior people are always oppressed by the superior people. In other words, the superior people do damage to the inferior people.
- The idea that the inferior people must fight for their freedom against the superior people.
- The idea that the superior people have absolute power and the inferior people are powerless.
- The idea that inferior people tend to always have good intentions.
To me, its quite obvious the Christian origins: the oppressors (Romans=Normans) are bad and corrupt but the oppressed (Christ and the Jews=Anglo-Saxons) are saintly and fighting the oppressors. In effect, the Anglo-Saxons basically gave the new Norman Conquest situation a “Biblical interpretation” which created a great blend between the historical/social problems and their Christian belief.
What this shows is that the “British class system” is, in actuality, not originally a class system at all, though it seems like it at first. Instead, its a reflection of a mentality, a way of looking at things. This mentality was actually based in Christian belief and not on any “class system” or any interpretation of a “class system”. After the Norman Conquest this Christian-based mentality became a basis for the interpretation of the relationship and problems between the classes (or, rather, between Norman and Anglo-Saxon) that developed after the Norman Conquest. Because this interpretation involved the interpretation of the reigning system from a Christian perspective (meaning that it had great authority politically and religiously) this new idea of a “British class system” became a dominant theme that would become prevalent in British life and history. It had such power that this mentality would extend way beyond politics and religion (as shown below).
Its interesting that these attitudes generally describe a hatred and dislike toward the Norman-based class system but this isn’t always the case. There is often a love and support for this system. It creates something like a love/hate relationship with the class system A good example is seen in the attitudes toward the British Monarch. In this case, they are often looked at with tremendous and deep respect, representing Anglo-Saxon tradition. But, at the same time, they are often representative of oppression and tyranny, a remnant of the Norman Invasion. These are often like polar opposites, one moment they may show great respect than the next moment great contempt.
Over time, there became variations of how people supported the class structure, depending on where you stood. Some include:
- The ‘lower class champion’. These people tended to emphasize and glorify the lower class and common people, often condemning and criticizing the upper classes in some way as a result.
- The ‘upper class champion’. These people tended to emphasize and glorify the upper classes. They tend to emphasize the ‘superior’ aspects of life. This point of view seemed to be prevalent with the nobility up until the 1800’s when the British Empire was at its height where it became increasingly taken by common people.
THE BRITISH CLASS STRUCTURE MENTALITY APPLIED TO INTERPRETING OTHER THINGS – THE CREATION OF A ‘WORLD VIEW’ PERSPECTIVE
Because the British class structure mentality is so dominant in British culture it set a ‘standard’, so to speak, for interpreting many other things in life. In other words, it is so dominant that it has created a tendency to interpret life and the world according to its perspective meaning that it has been turned into a ‘world view’ philosophy. Because of this, many things are interpreted in the British class structure mentality that have nothing whatsoever to do with British class structure at all or even politics or social relations.
One area where this is prevalent is in British-derived scientific fields of study. As science began to develop the British scientists naturally began to use, as a basis, their general perception of life which is very much influenced by the British class structure mentality. As a result, it was not uncommon for them to base their explanations on it creating, in a way, a ‘British class structure-based scientific mentality of interpretation’. Examples of this include things such as:
- Neurology. The idea, for example, that there is a ‘higher brain’ and a ‘lower brain’. The former is more ‘advanced’ and ‘better’ than the lower brain which is often viewed as ‘primitive’ and, perhaps, viewed as simple and backward. This is a variation, really, of the class system.
- Biology. A lot of animal behaviour is often interpreted as if it were British society with the British class structure. The relationships of organs in the body have even been looked at as having a class structure with the brain, usually, as the ‘monarch’ of the body.
- Psychology. A good example is how its often perceived that the mind is often viewed as having ‘primitive’ (inferior) elements which have to be ‘subjegated’ by the superior part of the mind. In some cases, it is viewed that if these ‘primitive’ aspects come out then people have problems, showing the innate bad qualities of inferior things. This viewpoints show aspects of the class structure.
- Evolution. I have always felt that the idea of evolution was based on the British class structure mentality. It primarily describes the change from inferior to superior (or lower to upper class) progression. I discussed this in an article called “Thoughts on my doubt about evolution“.
A dominant class structure theme we see with science is the idea of superior/inferior which appears in many different ways. But because science does not deal with social/political issues we tend to see an absence of social/political ideas such as oppression or freedom. Regardless of this, it still uses aspects of the mentality in its interpretation. Some of the ways the Superior/Inferior theme is often looked at include:
- Anything inferior is viewed as being a horrible condition or is incompetent or insufficient or is incredibly simple. Because of this, they come subjegated by superior things.
- That everything is trying to move from inferior to superior. This creates the idea of ‘progression’.
- That superior means that they are more advanced and competent and is the ‘best’. As a result, it is the ‘natural ruler’ and dominator of everything.
- That superior things must dominate or control inferior things usually as if by right.
As seen above, these themes are applied to many scientific aspects: brain matter, the workings of the mind, organs, animal behaviour, the diversity of living creatures, and such.
Historical and Social Interpretation
History and social interpration use British class structure mentality quite dominantly. This often creates viewpoints that are often not reflective of the actual situation though and have given some distorted views of history. It could be compared to how the Communists tried to interpret history and society from the point of view of the struggle of the proletariat and the working classes.
A good example of how this was done can be seen in anthropology and the view that primitive people are ‘backwards’ (inferior) and so are stupid-like or incompetent. There is often a viewpoint that these societies will naturally progress to become ‘advanced’, which usually means it will become British-like. In this point of view, it basically is showing British arrogance, thinking that their society is the ‘ultimate’ of the world, that they are the most superior society (the ‘upper class’ society).
Another theme we see coming from the British class mentality is the idea of “progress”, which is the all-so-familiar theme of inferior moving to superior. This is often looked at as if it there is some natural order that causes this to happen, as if there is a movement in all creation to cause this.
The interpretation of the world, and its problems, is usually viewed from a British class structure mentality. This is particularly apparent when there are problems. In this case, there’s a tendency to view world problems as a repeat of the Norman Invasion. Because of this, they often tended to misinterpret world affairs and other peoples and countries.
This tendency became particularly bad with the U.S. who tend to interpret world problems according to its political viewpoints (which are based in the British class structure mentality). Everything is oppression and the struggle for freedom from their point of view. The only answer they see is democracy and voting. What this has done is make them follow the British example and develop a misinterpretation of the world and a tendency to miss issues and what things are about.
The British class structure mentality is seen a lot in literature and stories. Typically, this is not stated outright but it is represented in other ways. Often, there are themes like:
- Representations of people in power taking advantage of the common people (superior versus inferior) in one way or another.
- People in power acting badly or in evil ways.
- People righting the wrongs and abuses committed by the people in power.
There are literally an unlimited amount of variations of ways these themes have been portrayed. In some cases, the may dominate the story-line (such as in Robin Hood) but they may sometimes only play a small part (such as in the beginning of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen). Its so prevalent that I can often tell if a story is British-originated if it entails British class struggle issues.
THE U.S. AND ITS MODIFICATION OF THE BRITISH CLASS STRUCTURE MENTALITY
The U.S. is just an extension of Britain because it is, after all, a British colony. As a result, it has taken many British viewpoints and attitudes (often unawares). They have taken the British class structure mentality but have modified it abit. Just as the British based most of their viewpoints on the Norman Invasion so has the U.S. based their viewpoints from the American War of Independence. Its interesting that both countries base much of their viewpoints on a war.
Because the U.S. was in different condition there were changes that were made to the British class structure mentality. They tended to devalue certain things and overvalue other things.
Things they tended to devalue are:
- The class structure.
- The superior/inferior conflict.
These are themes inherent in the British social structure. Since they did not exist in the U.S. on the scale as they did in Britain, it was only natural for them to be devalued.
Things they overvalue include:
- The emphasis on oppression.
- An emphasis on the individual.
- An emphasis on freedom. In many ways, the U.S. reinterpreted the superior/inferior conflict in a new way, as the “freedom of the individual versus oppression”.
- That the answer to everything is democracy and freedom.
- An emphasis on progress.
Many of these things reflected the new American situation.
One thing I have found is that, unlike the British, the U.S. does not seem to interpret non-social and non-political views with its mentality. That is to say, the don’t necessarily use it as a basis to interpret things like science, biology, and such. In other words, they do not use it as a basis to interpret the whole world. This does not mean that they don’t, but its not on the scale as the British. But when they do use it to interpret things its interpreted that way quite heavily, almost to the point of obsessiveness. As a result, the U.S. tends to get carried away with it. Because of this, it seems the U.S. tends to focus on certain themes, whereas the British are more general when using their interpretations. Some themes the U.S. focuses include:
- Politics (such as political control).
- Law (such as rights).
- Social problems (such as discrimination).
- Racial problems.
These all reflect aspects and problems of American society and they often are a directly a result of historical events (such as slavery) which it has suffered. In other words, it tends to interpret things according to the events in its history. This often creates problems as when they try to interpret world affairs, for example, they are interpreting things according to their historical problems, not the problems people are facing in the world. This has created all sorts of misinterpretations.
The Norman Invasion has brought together two great authorities (the authority of politics and the authority of religion) into a mentality that has, in turn, developed great authority on its own. This became the idea of the British class system. Its power and influence has been such that it has had great impact on their interpretation of the world, nature, and life. It has even gone on to influence people influenced by their society, such as the U.S., a former British colony. In both Britain and the U.S. the interpretation of things according to this point of view is so extensive and prevalent that, at times, it could be called obsessive. This is a testimony to the authority and power this point of view has. Oddly, the authority and power of this point of view has, as far as I know, never been acknowledged.