So, what is there to say about caste systems? Well, they’re based on what caste a person is born to and are designed to keep order within society based. The way I see a caste system is that there are levels of power and in no way can you ever move up or down to experience any other one of the castes.
Caste systems maintain the power structure and at the same time, they limit access to power. When born in a caste, you have no chance of mobility and have no idea how the other castes live and prosper. During the Middle Ages in Europe, society was like a caste system; Kings and Queens were at the top, knights were the next stage down and at the bottom were the peasants. It was an extremely rare occurrence for someone to experience mobility at that time. There were exceptions like Joan of Arc who was born a peasant girl, having no chance of ever being anywhere but the bottom. But, by the age of 17, she was hearing voices from God and was chosen to lead the French armies into battle and experienced upward mobility as a result (Deadliest Warrior: Season 3, Episode 2. Los Angeles: Spike TV, 2011. N. pag. Web. 27 July 2011).
But for the most part, caste systems are made to keep organization among the masses; it’s mainly set around the characteristic traits that you inherit at birth. And with this specific trait, society sees you as nothing more than that person. You are basically type caste by society, meaning you are known for that one trait and nothing can change that; you live in your caste.
While the United States isn’t based on a caste system, the country of India has a caste system of five castes: you have your priests, the warriors or military, merchants which are your traders or officials, the unskilled workers which are your equivalent to the American blue-collar occupations, and the untouchables who are subjected to doing the jobs that no one wants to take. Thet are trash collectors, window washers, janitors, pretty much the untouchables do the dirty work for the people of India.
A caste system could also be linked to a slave system as well, because, slave systems work a bit like a caste. Slaves have children, and they too become slaves because of their parents status. They typically were not allowed to move up in status.
Caste systems may be justified based upon stereotypes of how the people are built physically and then subject to jobs that best suit that physique. Caste requires endogamy, and thus people reproduce with similar individuals and pass on these traits, so it is claimed. For instance, if some people appear to be big and strong, you would label them only useful for a physically demanding jobs like construction or firefighting. Or, an individual with a more slender appearance may only be labeled as a banker or teacher; because that’s pretty much all that they are useful for. But this is discriminatory, because you are labeling and stereotyping people based on appearance and and using this to justify caste discrimination. In my view, I see this as an unnatural way to keep order.
Caste levels can be made based shared physical traits, such as the racially based systems of segregation in the U.S. and South Africa. A critique of these systems can be found in the 1968 film “Planet of the Apes”, in which the system of caste was based on the species of simian. In this movie, gorillas were the hunters and military based on their size and muscularity. Orangutans were the leaders and government officials because of their ability to cooperate and debate. And chimpanzees were the scholars, teachers, and scientists of the Planet of the Apes (Watchmojo: Planet of the Apes Franchise Retrospective. N.p.: YouTube, 2011. Web. 4 Aug. 2011.) In this system, no one from any castef could move up or down, even those who made the system. In this system, the law forbids you to change caste. For example, a rich person just sitting around one day thinking, “Gee, I wonder what it’s like to collect trash, or teach children at a school, or even repair a motorcycle for a living,” wouldn’t be allowed to try any of these occupations.
In a democratic society like the United States, people can experience any occupation. But in a caste system, it’s like being in a box with only one window that doesn’t open so that you can only see what happens and not actually participate. This is similar to a slave system, where there is no chance of mobility through heredity. But for a slave, there is a way out; it’s just very difficult to pry up one of the walls of the box enough in order to get out. Those who are lucky enough to escape the box broke the code of slave and caste to experience social mobility.
In some ways, social class is comparable to a caste. As you know, castes are like being in a box with no door, but social class is like the box with one difference, there’s a door. But there’s a rule for this: in order to experience mobility in a social class system, you need to have some wealth and a little education to move up. It often feels like you are going to be in the class for your whole life, but with that American dream of working hard, you can move up from the bottom. This is compared to a caste, where no matter how hard you work, you are never going to move up or down; it’s always the same.
Perhaps we can overlook the “always the same” idea by taking a look at the novel Divergent; a society divided by five factions represented by one personality trait. How this type of caste system works is that all 16-year old children actually have a chance of mobility. They all have a simulation test that will determine what traits they possess. When finished, the instructor informs them which traits they presented, and they ultimately change caste by blood oath and remain there for the remainder of their days. This concept plays like a caste system that experiences limited mobility. (Roth, Veronica. Divergent. N.p.: HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2013). How about that, huh?
Sometimes it’s difficult for people to have mobility based on wealth and income because of their occupation. The people who are in the lower class have it the hardest, they have low paying jobs that almost never experience college education and therefore cannot move up the social ladder. It’s hard to pay for school because they earn very little to pay for it. In contrast, children who are born to wealth, have a much higher chance of attending college, mainly due to the fact that they have the wealth to pay for it. Therefore it’s easier for them to become educated and successful. But it does make me think what their parents or grandparents did to earn that wealth because they may have started with little money as well and their children were just born to rich parents. The parents thought about the American dream and succeeded, but their kids could actually ask their parents for the money and go to college and become whatever they want without really working hard. Think about it.
I feel like that there really is no need for caste systems. Because even though it’s a way to keep peace and order and avoid chaos, we have to realize that people are not going to follow only one person’s system forever. Those people may one day realize that they have more to offer than to just one trait or one occupation, like the groups in the Planet of the Apes film. We should not label people as belonging to a certain group or otherwise that’s what society is just going to see them as. We also shouldn’t build a society based on what group people are born into, but we should build one based on what they can do. Stratification systems should be built on talent and freedom, never heredity. What do you think?
Deadliest Warrior: Season 3, Episode 2. Los Angeles: Spike TV, 2011. N. pag. Web. 27 July 2011.
Roth, Veronica. Divergent. N.p.: HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2013.
Watchmojo: Planet of the Apes Franchise Retrospective. N.p.: YouTube, 2011. Web. 4 Aug. 2011.