As a precursor to guessing which neurotransmitter and hormonal set points each social class pursues, I think it’s necessary to generalize what abstract qualities they pursue. Note that individuals’ set points can change in response to a regular series of shocks: weightlifters acquire higher testosterone set points, long-term marijuana enthusiasts probably have higher dopamine set points, and so on.
In general, I believe these abstract desires correspond to the more concrete desire to be promoted to the next social class. For example, the middle class wants “success” because success = upper-middle class.
Out-of-sight upper: Wants the prisca sapientia
Upper: Wants a historical legacy of influence
Upper-middle: Wants prestige
Middle: Wants success
High prole: Wants deference
Mid prole: Wants R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Low prole: Wants protection (from the boss and other in-group social predators)
Destitute: Wants security (from out-group physical predation like rape, murder, and robbery)
Out-of-sight poor: Wants legitimacy (formal acceptance into the in-group, alleviating the fear of police and other in-group antibodies)
Also notable is that each class scorns the desires of the class below them, probably as a way of discouraging upward mobility. For example, it’s a common joke in the middle class to make up professional-sounding names for demeaning jobs, like “sanitation engineer” for janitors and “nutrition specialist” for fast food workers. This derides the desire of the high proles to have their specializations taken seriously:
The kind of jobs high-prole people do tempt them to insist that they are really “professionals,” like “sanitation men” in a large city. A mail carrier tells Studs Terkel why he likes his work: “They always say, ‘Here comes the mailman.’…I feel it is one of the most respected professions there is throughout the nation.” Prole women who go into nursing never tire of asserting how professional they are [Ed: Hopefully they’ll meme it into existence someday.], and the same is true of their daughters who, become air stewardesses, a favorite high-prole occupation. Although Army officers, because they are all terrified of the boss, are probably more middle-class than high-prole, they seem the lower the more they insist that they are “professionals,” and since their disgrace in Vietnam, and their subsequent anxiety about their social standing, that insistence has grown more mechanical. [Ed: That’s because it’s now policy in the military that everyone insist this as often as possible.] An Army wife says, “Some like to speak of doctors, lawyers, etc., as professionals. All [Army] officers are professionals.” And then, a notable deviation from logic: “Who could be more professional than the man who has dedicated his whole life to the defense of his country?”
Class (pg. 45)