The Great British Class Calculator

The BBC and sociologists from leading universities have teamed up to conduct the UK’s largest ever study of class. What would the Buddha have made of it?

The team surveyed more than 160,000 people and came up with a new model of class. Instead of the traditional ‘upper’, ‘middle’ and ‘working class’, they suggested seven distinct categories. Some familiar-sounding groups remain: the ‘elite’, the ‘established middle class’ and the ‘traditional working class”. But there are also new ones: the ‘technical middle class’, ’emergent service workers’, ‘new affluent workers’ and the ‘precariat’ – ‘the poor, precarious proletariat’.

But what actually is class? Is it an accent, who you associate with, what you can buy? And does class really help us better understand ourselves and our world?

Personally, for much of the time, I unconsciously opt in and out of various social categories, which help describe who I am. I visit museums and go to gigs. I watch The Killing. I visit my local Buddhist centre. Such self-perceptions and identities help me make sense of the world. Problems can arise, though, when I use such categorisations, however subtley, to see myself as different or special, regardless of which class category I belong to.

The first human the Buddha encountered after his Enlightenment was a Brahmin, a man of the highest caste in the society of the time. When asked to which caste he belonged, the Buddha replied that ‘worth, not birth’, defined a man’s standing in the world. He rejected the existing social order, pointing out that ultimately, status can only be ascribed to the ethical integrity of one’s actions. The radical – revolutionary, even – nature of this message goes to the heart of the Enlightenment experience. And following in the Buddha’s footsteps we can start to experience the liberation from categorisation that comes with spiritual practice – with all of consequent positive consequences.

The Great British Class Calculator may help us locate ourselves within our aspirational society. But the best way to join the elite to which we all, ultimately, belong is through a deep identification with all beings, with all life.

2 Responses to “The Great British Class Calculator”

  1. Tim Segaller says:

    Good to see you back and writing on Journal East, Manjusiha. I have missed your thought-provoking pieces, of which this latest is another fine example. I couldn’t agree more with what you say here. It’s all about identity – we like to feel that we can categorise ourselves, often in opposition to something we don’t want to be seen to be. It’s understandable – we want to belong, to feel safe in our group. But it means we miss so much of the world – of what’s outside our group. And of course, when we can let drop all of these ultimately insignificant surface identifications, what we find is that what unites us as human being – regardless of class – is far, far greater than what divides us. Simple as that in my mind. But easier said than done…

  2. Manjusiha says:

    Thanks Tim. Glad you enjoyed the piece – actually written by Jed Shamel. Hope to have more here from Jed, and maybe even me, over the coming months.

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