"What, sir, do you think of the proletariat?" a man with a drooping moustache suddenly asked me, as I was on the point of extricating myself from the rowdy crowd that had gathered around a speaker's soapbox in the vicinity of the park bench on which I had been languidly surveying the passers-by, prior to this political intrusion.
I halted, paralysed in my steps, as if by some magnetic constraint emanating from the questioner's person, and diffidently confessed: "Not much, I'm afraid."
"Ah, so you're a bourgeois, are you?" the man responded, jumping to negative conclusions.
"Depends how you define a bourgeois," I evasively replied, distrusting his deprecatory tone-of-voice.
"An exploiter of the working man," someone remarked to the left of the moustache-wearing person - a woman, as it turned out, who appeared to be connected with him in some way.
"Oh well, in that case I'm no bourgeois," I declared. "Simply an intellectual, though one of predominantly middle-class descent."
The man looked baffled, and it seemed that his drooping moustache twitched slightly, as if galvanized by some minor electric shock. "Aren't the middle class and the bourgeoisie one and the same thing?" he fairly snorted, spoiling for an intellectual fight.
"In one sense 'yes' and in another sense 'no'," I ambivalently answered, to the polite amusement of the woman.
"In what sense 'no'?" she then asked.
"Well, by being some kind of professional who helps rather than exploits the proletariat - like, for example, a teacher or a doctor."
The man fiercely shook his head. "They all exploit the proletariat under a capitalist system!" he averred. "It's only in a socialist system that such professional exploiters can become helpers and thus not middle-class predators but ... intellectual workers."
"Yes, intellectual proletarians!" the woman insisted, thereby reinforcing her companion's argument.
I hesitated a moment before responding, then did so with: "That still doesn't preclude a class distinction from existing between manual and intellectual workers. There'll continue to be a relative distinction between the one and the other category, as between plumbers and doctors."
The man looked displeased, but said: "That's still preferable to any absolute distinction, as between exploiters and exploited, bourgeoisie and proletariat!"
"I agree," I smilingly conceded. "But you can't entirely get rid of class distinctions between people, even if, in the relative context, you're enabled to spell class with a small 'c', so to speak. Such distinctions inhere to the human stages of evolution, the ultimate one not excepted."
"So we can never live in a truly classless society," the woman deduced on a faintly suspicious note.
"Not on the human level," I confidently confirmed.
The man frowned and, half-clenching his teeth, asked: "Then when?"
"Only in the superbeing millennium," I replied. "In other words, at that point in time when post-human life will be elevated to the absolute status of new-brain collectivizations, each of which will constitute a superbeing, the antithesis of a tree."
"Fantastic!" exclaimed the man, whose woman appeared to be on the verge of echoing him when I cut in with:-
"So it may at first seem, but that's only because we're at quite an evolutionary remove from that classless, or completely uniform, society, and can't be expected to properly relate to it at present - at least not in a majority of cases. However, I can to some extent relate to it because, in my capacity of self-taught philosopher, I was the one who originally thought it up."
"Good God!" the man exclaimed. "But how will this classless society survive?"
"Through an artificial support-and-sustain system," I told him, feeling slightly embarrassed by the intellectual distance between us. "It will keep the new-brain collectivizations alive while they hypermeditate towards transcendence."
"And how long will that take?" the woman tentatively asked, not bothering to seek a clarification of 'transcendence', nor even, to my greater surprise, of 'hypermeditate'.
"It could take a long time," I replied. "And that is a good enough reason why the superbeing society should be classless, independent of human supervision and therefore not obliging technicians to hang around longer than absolutely necessary. The support-and-sustain systems would have adequate safeguards built-in to them in any case, being connected to computers which, whilst an integral component of a superbeing entity, would serve as artificial overseers or guardians."
The man raised bushy brows in patent disbelief and cried: "All this speculation about some post-human future is completely beyond me! I thought we were discussing man a moment ago."
I didn't immediately respond to this statement because the thought had occurred to me, in conjunction with my mention of the superbeing millennium, that perhaps each centre in which a superbeing was housed would be equipped with an automatic hose system that could squirt masses of foam at it from a variety of angles, once transcendence had occurred and the centre was threatened with destruction from the ensuing proton-proton reactions of disintegrating brain matter. Not that the destruction of a meditation centre mattered that much - at least not in regard to itself. The point was to prevent flames from spreading from one centre to another and thereby possibly engulfing superbeings which hadn't yet overcome their own atomic integrity, as it were, because still hypermeditating towards transcendence.
However, with the moustache-wearing man evidently awaiting a response to his statement, I cut short my esoteric speculations on that subject and remarked: "Men can never transcend class in any absolute sense, not even in an absolutist system such as exists in socialist states, where they are divisible into the relative class distinctions of ... workers, professionals, and leaders, not to mention soldiers and police. We are speaking here of a distinction between lower class, middle class, and upper class, at least as regards the first three categories, a distinction which also prevails in the West, though on an absolute basis, bearing in mind that Western society, being more deeply capitalist, is divisible between exploiters and exploited. Thus the paradox of the situation is that whereas in an absolutist society class distinctions are relative, in a relativistic society, on the other hand, they're absolute. Yet not entirely so! For a relativistic society may give rise to a distinction between bourgeoisie and middle class, using the latter term in a relative sense."
The man looked completely puzzled at this point, and then glared at me through heavily bespectacled eyes. "But I thought we'd established the fact that the middle class and the bourgeoisie are really one and the same thing!" he protested, half-turning towards his companion for confirmation. "As professionals, they exploit the proletariat under a capitalist system."
I shook my head. "Doctors, dentists, teachers, etc., who are state employed, function as middle-class professionals, or intellectual proletarians, as they'd say in a socialist state, and thereby form a relative class distinction with the manual or non-professional proletariat, in contrast to self-employed professionals, who constitute an absolute class distinction vis-à-vis the proletariat, and may accordingly be defined as bourgeois."
"Yes, bourgeois exploiters!" the man asserted in a gruff tone-of-voice.
I smiled reservedly. "Not that many proletarians can afford to be exploited by independent professional gentlemen," I rejoined, "since the fees the latter charge are such as could only be met, as a rule, by fellow-bourgeois exploiters, whether managers, directors, owners, or whatever."
The man looked decidedly piqued by this contention, leaving his companion to ask me whether, as a self-professed intellectual, I wasn't also an exploiter.
"No," I replied. "For the simple reason that a writer, which is what I effectively am, functions vis-à-vis his publisher as an intellectual worker the product of whose labour can be sold at a profit. Thus, as a middle-class or professional person, it's possible to be exploited by a bourgeois, or someone who makes a profit out of other people's work in his own, not to mention his employees', financial interests. A similar thing can happen in socialist states, though in that context the publisher becomes a middle-class person forming a relative class distinction with his authors rather than an absolute class distinction between exploiters and exploited, and simply because the profits he makes are channelled back into the state, which, theoretically at least, is synonymous with the proletariat."
"The only thing you forgot to mention," the woman remarked, "is that in a relative state, on the other hand, even the author is a kind of exploiter, because he functions independently of the state in a largely self-employed context. He may not make a profit from his works, the way a publisher does, but he can become fairly wealthy from them all the same, and thus exist in a quasi-capitalist capacity as a kind of independent businessman!"
"Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on one's point of view, Michael Jones has never been published," I laconically confessed. "So I can't vouch for the truth of your contention."
The woman showed signs of surprise at this juncture and verbally held her tongue. However, the man, while softening a little in his attitude towards me, pressed me to explain why, in returning to where our discussion had begun, I didn't think much of the proletariat. "After all, if you're not an exploiter yourself, but an unpublished writer," he went on, "what-on-earth can you have against them?"
"Frankly, the proletariat are all things to all people," I averred, after a reflective pause, "and to a writer like me they're more often than not a noisy intrusion into my thoughts! But that, I dare say, is rather beside-the-point, and shouldn't be regarded in anything but a comparatively trivial light. Before you stopped me, I was about to take myself off to a quieter area of the park in order to think my largely philosophical thoughts in peace. This proletarian crowd that had suddenly sprung-up, like weeds, around the speaker's soapbox was distracting me from my reflections and, consequently, when you asked me what I thought of the proletariat, I replied in a manner owing something to the fact of my having been distracted by it. That was a personal response existing on the trivial, everyday plane. You caught me off duty, as it were, from my ideological rectitude, which tragically affirms the proletariat as the class of tomorrow, the only class capable, by dint of its urban existence, of evolving towards a post-human life form. These proletarians, paradoxically enough, are gathered together in a park, which is civilized nature existing in the city."
The moustache-wearing man gripped the arm of his companion and muttered: "I can understand some things about his definition of the proletariat but, frankly, there are certain other things which are completely bizarre to me and, for that very reason, well-nigh impossible to understand! Nevertheless, I'll concede that the fellow isn't quite the rogue I first took him for! There's more to him than meets the eye!"
"Aye, that's true enough!" the woman laughed, and, together, they turned away to listen to the ravings of the soapbox orator instead.