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The Habitus of Canada
Some musings on the topic.
Games. We all play games with other people. In Eric Berne’s 1964 Best Seller “Games People Play” which studied the psychological concept of Transactional Analysis, the main concept is that every time we interact with people we play social games, some of them are positive, some are neutral and some are negative. We talk with people and in return we expect a certain subset of responses back. If everyone plays their roles properly in the social interaction game then they may be invited to play again with others and this is how we build relationships (positively or negatively) Playing these social games can teach us about ourselves and other people. To take the abstraction a step deeper, certain social status’s will require you to perform certain social interactions in certain ways.
One might ask themselves, how do we determine which games will be played based on social status? Different cultures have different ways of deducing social status. A classic example might be appearance. In some cultures the upper class dress in specific color schemes that separate them from the lower classes. It can also be expressed by a language of “high dialect” and “low dialect”. Even our general interests are skewed along these class and social lines with some notable overlap. The ways that humans differentiate social status varies in a wide margin and becomes ingrained in our culture via The Habitus
The Habitus is a social theory developed by Pierre Bourdieu. A French intellectual heavily influenced by Marxist ideology (although never being Marxist himself, having criticized Marx’s theories) but where Marx focused on capital being the driving factor behind social hierarchy, Pierre took it a step further into the world of symbology. This formed the basis of his concept of Cultural Capital which moves past the economic principles of Marx and implies a symbolic capital comprising of things like skills, material belongings, credentials, type of clothing, mannerisms and much more.
The Habitus takes the concept of Cultural Capital and puts it into practice. It is the physical embodiment of cultural capital. Our habits, dispositions, Religion, linguistics, skills, etc… that we have based on our life experiences. We all have a general feeling of how to navigate the social situations we find ourselves in and what “games” we need to play. When we don’t understand because we don’t fit into the Habitus of the environment we are in, we usually seek a mentor or someone in the know who can guide us until we are comfortable in this environment. We may simply mimic the behaviors of those who appear to be faring well in the Habitus until these behaviors become more natural.
The examples are innumerable but to clarify, a simplified example might be... A child born into a wealthy upper class home may develop Social Skills around the habitus of this environment. They will most likely wear status symbols more prominently, feel protected by authority figures, develop a palate for finer cuisine and experience joy in sports deemed more refined by societies expectations. These skills, beliefs, attitudes, material possessions, etc… would help them develop clout and status in their social circles. Yet if they take the wrong turn and end up in the wrong part of a rough neighborhood these cultural symbols may end up putting them into a detrimental position. Suddenly their outward symbols of wealth become markers for robbery, violence or ridicule. This trope is even reflected in popular culture. A man in a polo and khakis enters a biker bar and orders a martini might provoke laughter in a movie theater because this man is acting outside of the informal rules laid out by the Habitus and enforced through the social contract.
In Canada what is very interesting is that the widely regarded middle class can have an overlap in many different areas of Cultural Capital. Whereas in many Countries the class gap is large, in Canada with a few notable exceptions, the gap is narrower. This could be viewed as showcasing our cultural hegemony but like in a deviation chart, it’s the small standard deviations on either side of the cultural scales that can compound into huge differences.
It’s these deviation differences that, in my opinion, have led to a wide chasm of cultural beliefs in Canada and have had a detrimental impact on the social contract. The Social Contract is the theory that people live mostly harmoniously in a society based on agreement of certain moral, ethical and political behaviors. These rules can be written such as the Criminal Code of Canada or our unwritten rules and expectations that are just generally frowned upon by generally all people.
The Growing Chasm in Canada
In a previous article I discussed one of the reasons why I believed that the social contract in Canada was breaking. However it goes deeper then that, it is embedded into our habitus. There is an incredible class divide between the Left and the Right in Canada. So many things in our lives overlap with each other but our political belief structure is growing further and further apart. The habitus of Conservative and Liberal values have never been so diametrically opposed on, again my opinion, one standard deviation for most people. It has led to more and more negative games being played. In Berne’s book there were three degrees a game could end up playing out as. degree one ends up in disagreement, degree two may end up in the hospital and degree three can end up in the morgue.
Of course one of the limitation’s of Eric’s theory is the time in which his works were produced. Our games have evolved significantly but the premises remains the same. I would say that a degree two game may also involve some form of cancellation. A loss of status and income meant as a social punishment. Despite our habitus overlap the political differences are simply too much for most people to reconcile. What it has led to is a very dangerous game where those deviations lead people to take more and more hardened stances until everyone involved is so enraged that they exercise catharsis through some big protest that inevitably leads to violence or acts of coordinated violence against their ideological opponents that results in injury or death.
The Race to the Bottom
The habitus that we currently occupy relies on building social clout and status through an increasingly partisan belief structure. One can enrich themselves and their social status by developing increasingly partisan viewpoints that clash with their ideological opponents. Yet, curiously there is some cognitive dissonance on display. Leftist progressives for example like to claim that they are for the common man, the working person and all about enhancing the rights of people to resist the elite in our society. However increasingly these progressives have courted major corporations, pharmaceutical companies and cheer on increasingly authoritarian laws and measures to ensure that opposing views are censored. I have noticed that many people who claim they are Conservatives have taken on increasingly Libertarian views that are not congruent with classic Conservative values. It appears to me that the roles that were commonly believed to be held by each side up until maybe the 90’s have somewhat switched places. The right now is about less laws and more freedoms while the left is about progressivism in cooperation with the private industry and the public entities through the use of increasingly harsh measures. The left is engaging in there own form of McCarthyism against the right through kangaroo courts, show trials and online witch hunts and cancellations. The right engages in this as well but more subversively as they don’t hold Institutional power right now.
While we play these games however the people in charge have enriched themselves in egregious ways. We race to the bottom while the upper class engages in one of the largest wealth transfers in history, getting rich while we fight each other for cultural scraps. The social contract continues to be changed by cultural pressures driven by organizations that understand consumer behavior in shocking ways. It is not a natural progression brought on by enlightenment values but driven by profit and greed. Our current habitus continues to encourage a class and cultural divide.
The social contract has been re-shaped in a direction that support these divides and rewards them in the form of cheap dopamine hits like shares, likes, reposts and more. The upper class know this and they use this re-imagining of the social contract to push out their luxury beliefs onto Canadians. Safe from the harms that their ideological leanings can cause to society.
How do we Move Past This?
My final thoughts is how do we move past this? In my opinion we have to look to the overlap in the habitus in Canada. The things that bring us together. We have to move past these differences and focus on the common understandings we possess. The values that we still share. People may claim that these differences make cohabitation impossible but that’s just the partisan talking. We have to relearn to agree to disagree on some topics and find common ground to unite under. We aren’t going to agree on everything and that’s okay but if we don’t establish a social contract that works for most people then it’s just going to get worse.
“You are not your job, you're not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You are all singing, all dancing crap of the world.”
―Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
I’m still exploring these concepts and I take a conscious effort daily to observe my surroundings. How did things get this way? Why are people so angry at each other and looking not only to win but to punish those that disagree with them? Why do people take their habitus so seriously in Canada and why have people’s immutable characteristics and social status become so important to them and how they navigate the world and interact with other people?
These are all questions and more I am hoping to develop more answers to and hopefully we can find a way through this situation. What are your thoughts? How is Canada’s Habitus effecting you? What games do you see being played against each other and how do we find an out of these games?