By working class, I don’t of course mean men with flat ‘ats and whippets. If you need to work for a living, and your employment depends upon the decision of a boss, you are working class.
Traditionally, this question provokes illiterate mumbo-jumbo from Marxists: false consciousness, hegemony, the masses, drone, drone.
However, we don’t need such gibberish to explain the lack of class consciousness. Orthodox cognitive biases do the job just as well. Here are five that stop people realizing their class position:
1. Wishful thinking. People think they are luckier or more skillful than the average. So they underestimate their chances of being made redundant, and over-estimate their chances of promotion. Just watch Pop Idol or the Apprentice – people of no account whatsoever think they can rise out of their class. And why do think people do the lottery?
2. Illusion of control. People think they can control their fate even when they can’t. And if you think you’re in charge of your life, you won’t feel the need for class solidarity or a strong trades union to help you.
3. Fundamental attribution error. We tend to attribute events to conscious, direct, individual behaviour more than to subtle environmental forces. This can depress class consciousness in two ways. If someone is unsuccessful – say they lose their job or don’t get promoted – we over-attribute this to their incompetence rather than to situational factors: it’s a necessity of the (capitalist?) economy that millions of people do lose their jobs or miss out on promotion through no fault of their own. Secondly, it means we overly believe that bosses deserve their position, rather than got it through luck.
4. Halo effect. We naturally think that all good individual qualities are correlated; the movie heroes are better looking and better shots than the baddies. This leads us to believe that the rich are more virtuous than others. This effect can be reinforced by the salience effect. Rich people attract more attention than poor ones. And the egocentric attribution bias leads them to claim that the key to their success was hard work.. This causes us to believe not only that they deserve their position, but also that we can emulate their success if we work hard too, and that the poor owe their position to a lack of hard work.
We like to believe we live in a just, fair world and, therefore, we do feel that we live in a just, fair world. In order to defend this fragile belief, we twist our perceptions of others and reinterpret past events. This requires considerable self-delusion in our sometimes capricious society.
These are not the only mechanisms explaining the lack of class consciousness. Another one is that the hierarchical capitalist economy is regarded as natural simply because alternatives to it are so rarely described.
All I’m saying is that the lack of class politics can be explained by conventional social science.