—Owen Jones, quoting a tittering dinner-party participant in his recent book, CHAVS The Demonization of the Working Class
Dwight Garner opens his review of Chavs with Jones’ story of the dinner party. Perhaps a dozen people of many walks and both genders, with no obvious predilection toward snobbery, nonetheless quickly and casually snap a whip of derision toward the hapless chav. On which Jones asks, “How has hatred of working-class people become so socially acceptable?”
The word chav has come to convey a thuggish conception of the working class in England. It describes the flash of zirconium-encrusted pendants and track-suits, perhaps dressed up with an edging of Burberry plaid and encircled with a pair of bug-eye, imitation Prada sunglasses, that festoons the imagined ignorant and menacing prole. What may have begun as a criticism of poor taste came to qualify an entire class of individuals, and somehow, it was ok. But why?
Garner collects a handful of answers. He suggests that it may have to do with the increasing degree of wealth and privilege that characterizes the political and cultural elite in England. Much is made of David Cameron’s Concorde-arranged, super-sonic commute to the New York birthday party of Peter Getty, the scion of John Paul Getty.
The Labor Party is no less to blame. Once the guardian of England’s working class and a symbol of upward mobility, they “didn’t really like these people very much” anymore.
But Garner misses the main shift that has cultivated the notion of and the attitude toward the chav. Touching on the culpability of the chav, he quotes Jones: “Those who were poor or unemployed had no one to blame but themselves.” But he doesn’t assign its origin, which sits in the shift toward a market-based meritocracy.
A market-based meritocracy registers one’s merit on the basis of Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Wealth will accrue according to one’s merit, and in a market, wealth is the measure of success. Those titans of industry, those John Galts, are each the envy and the measure of success, and success and standing equates to wealth, doled out or denied by the machinations of the market, but in a market-based meritocracy, some poor working slob has only themselves to blame for their station.
What Garner misses is the drastic acceptability of what’s bubbling beneath the surface, “If they were worth a damn, they’d be rich.” There’s no room for respectability among the working class in a market-based meritocracy. The notion of and attitude toward the chav, however appalling, is a necessary outcome. That’s why hatred of working-class people has become so socially acceptable.