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Ethics/De Facto Caste System


QUESTION: I grew up in the South-Central USA.  While I do not have deep Southern roots, I did experience enough of the South to understand a functional caste system.  It was like the "DNA" powerful land owners was passed down so that when I grew up in the 1950's, many community "leaders" were "affirmed" in their own self-esteem (ego) by being able to have individuals from the lower economic class pamper them and serve them - they had power over them.  Fast forward to today.  I live now in California.  I have friend who grew up here.  As per economics and education, he is a upper-middle class.  He feels he is not prejudice, but he has never been in an African-American, Asian, Hispanic home or church - and has no friends other than Caucasian.   Here now is where I am headed with my question.  He loves to pay for being pampered and served.  No matter if he is going to get a massage, eat out, buy clothes, getting his shoes shinned, etc., he loves paying for people to serve him. It is like you can see his self-esteem rise as these interactions affirm his position in the de facto USA caste system.  And if he is not served properly, he he is turned off and offended.  To me this behavior is in the same spirit of the South I experienced - different times, different labels - but the same prejudice that promotes another de facto caste system.  Are there any articles of when you are aware on this subject?  Would be interested in your response.

ANSWER: Hi Jimmie,

We have more of a Class structure vs. a cast structure.  These are very different in nature and social structure approach.  

There is, unfortunately, still a fair amount of racial "tension" and prejudice in our society even after more then 50 years of "freedom" for blacks.  Part of this stems from the long term struggel to free themselves from the economic system that works to keep people poor and poorly educated.  The current economic situation (starting in 2008) has had a sever impact on the "New Middle Class" of which there were a growing number of "minorities" benefiting from the broad growth of the 1990s and earlier 2000's.  Even many Caucasians who were solidly middle class have dropped down, some into poverty which for many was a new experience. This has stirred some of the "resentment" between racial groups, as well as class groups.  

Unfortunately those with "jobs" where the income rate is high middle class to above, often will develop a sense of expectation and privilage where they feel that they should be served.  This is not necessarily racially motivated but rather class motivated. I have seen well off Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, Indians etc... do the very same thing with service people, with out taking the time to recognize their contribution and the fact that many are entrapenurs and work very hard for what they have.  It is a sign of our times where people are not willing to honor the work of others.  But it is not racial as noted above.  It may have a factor there of but it is not totally racial.  

When I have my shoes polished (if I don't do it myself) I am always appreciative of the job done and always give them a generous tip for their service.  They do these jobs with pride and effort, and this should be rewarded.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks for your response.  Very well stated.  After further reflection, I guess my friend gets his fulfillment out of the act of service itself as much as what the service produced.  The act - he pays and another serves him - seems to reaffirm his position in, what your refer to as the class system.  He seems mostly to view the world in some sort of hierarchical structure.  He is always conscious of where he and others around fit in on the "scale."  While he appreciates a job well done, tips well, and treats those serving kindly, it is in the very ACT of service to him (being pampered) - that gives him great satisfaction.  It is like the very act helps him to maintain his position in the hierarchy.  In any case, I see this within the same principles that has drive man's orientation toward servitude of humans in history.  But I prefer the orientation of the Great Teacher when he said, ". . .  the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others. . ."

We all serve others in one way or another, or at least the 99% do.  There are those amongst us that don't have to but do any way.  The Bill Gates of the world who use their great wealth to help others.  I wish all people in the 1% would take notes from him.  

But even he must serve others....


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Ralph Salier


Top rated member of ethics board on former 20 years in procurement where ethics is an absolute. Broad understanding of cultures and the variation in ethical standards and behaviors relating to ethics. On several ethics boards (public forum). Also on ethics board of


Over 20 years of ethics evaluations and working in procurement.

MA Anthropology, Proximics

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