Wagging the Dog
February 02, 2021
I was 20 when I sat GCE ‘A’ Levels. My tutor in English was Rodney Chambers, a graduate of Oxford, who having chosen to add a bit of income to his young family of children’s purses, was doing some evening work at the local FE Technical College, as they were called in those days.
Rodney was iconoclastic. At 30 years old he was a cynic. About love, about life, about society.
He told me that the way our lives are organised publicly and politically in the UK has been (and I add I’d say is still now) based loosely on the schema of Plato’s Republic, and administered under a general Utilitarian ethos and approach, after the fashion of the nineteenth century philosophers’ writings.
By this he meant, I am now assuming after a long number of years, that The British Class System is set in place with a purpose and deliberately; and that any claims by politicians to be ‘conquering the class gaps’ and, as they now bleat, to be ‘levelling up’ is air; since (in my words) any person of the ‘normal’ mindset, which is 90% plus of us, does not do anything, let alone a major adjustment, which alters entirely his or her prospects, and family’s and friends’ prospects, dramatically and for much the worse.
That political class that leads us remains very much a privileged class; and one not privileged by effort, or by proof of merit – I speak on this merit later - but for the most part ‘to the manor born’. To look at regional accents among this class tells a strong evidential story. A few Northern accents, mainly neutral, seldom pejorative, and the rest having that English accent which used to be called in my day Oxford, but which has now morphed into a more euphemistic mode to be known as Standard. Here is an online Thesaurus on the topic:
Standard English Noun: English of educated people
OTHER WORDS FOR standard english
Take a good look at the bland and blind equation exactly in the Thesaurus of ‘Standard English’ with ‘correct’, ‘good’ and ‘educated’ speakers!!
These days accents remain barriers to entry, causes for refusal of acceptance into, classes and their cultural supports. The Standard accent remains a passport to entry and acceptance into the classes who believe they matter to the country, to the economy, or to the academy or a profession.
A Brummie is hardly heard on broadcast media, not as an announcer, nor other than in a role in an afternoon drama. Liverpool less so but yet quite strongly debarred. Glasgow, Belfast, West Country, South Wales Welsh and London regional accents also get short shrift – excepting in drama roles. Conversely Edinburgh, Highland, Manchester, Yorkshire, North Wales, Stafford, Kent and The South East are among those regional accents which in general are close to tolerable to the broadcaster’s ear.
Under the same header as ‘voice testing’, which is done by broadcasters so as to filter out voices of unsuited timbre, I’d suspect those accents unwanted are also filtered off into refusals of job posts.
The arguments they use are hypocritical. i.e. Certain accents are not acceptable to them for broadcasting because they do not carry sufficient credence of authority for listeners. Were this the case then why should the women’s cause have been allowed to have taken off and prospered? Women also were once considered to have had insufficient authority with listeners for them to be permitted into ‘serious’ broadcasting work. Other edge case minority causes also pertain in similar manners. And how if ever are such accents, when denied broadcasting time, to be able to obtain the necessary authority? The conclusion has to be – the people in charge do not want them to. Or are these people in charge under the same illusion as the compliers of the Thesaurus? i.e. ‘our types’ are the natural candidates for the work?
One need only observe and so see that this analysis of mine is the case. And it is the case because those who speak in the accents grateful to the broadcasting ear are those persons who dwell in the more prosperous areas, whose families have children educated at either Public School, which in Britain is expensive private schooling, or at state institutions which are generally far better performers - in the terms which the politicians lay down - than are the schools in the lesser areas where generally the ‘ragged people go’ (Paul Simon).
Hence one gets state-education called here a ‘postcode lottery’, which term means that your education for your children is determined by where you live. Upon your postal address depends its quality. This better and worse education is the case because richer areas have higher performing schools and poorer places poorer performing ones. Probably the same where you are? But it’s not a ‘postcode lottery’ at all. That’s a misnomer. It’s not as if pupils are designated a school by a ticket taken from a sorting hat, like with houses at Hogwarts. No, a child on the whole is predetermined by his/her postal address to one from a very small set of schools and is allotted to one of them in a pecking order determined by the Local Council. A child never goes to a school outside the Local Council area, unless the child is very specially gifted, or problematic, or else her/his parents are rich enough to buy schooling for the child elsewhere. (There is some home schooling done and allowed but again only well-off people with time to do so have space in which to tutor their own children).
Some parents being so aware of this state of affairs will move home just before the age their first child hits secondary school, into an area of ‘better schooling’ if they have means to.
Apart from this ‘workaround-cheat’ there’s no lottery about it in fact; it is a misnomer encouraged by the powerful into accepted usage because it deflects from the common people obtaining a conception of the actual facts of the situation. It’s in fact a solid part of the class system; and a very important part of it. Sorting early on in their lives the children of the secular sheep from those of the secular goats; sorted on what – intelligence? - personableness? – ability or gifts or aptitudes? - for much the most part no, not at all; sorted simply by way of whose father and/or mother is already doing well in the nation, since, it is reckoned, such people and their families are more important to be fostered and nurtured than those whose contributions are considered lesser and towards the bottom-end, going on trivial.
Schools which were higher grade – before Comprehensive education - for many years had uniforms for the children to wear to school, whereas children in ‘other’ lesser schools had none and went to school in ‘day’ clothes. Comprehensive education altered that,but the league tables of ’top schools’ came in so as to more thoroughly sort by economic, social, and cultural means-testing.
This ‘postcode lottery’ has been, in public, agonised over by prominent people and by our governors for decades, but it is still as healthy and in place as it ever was, just as The Houses of Parliament remain every bit packed out with Members who are without a trace of commonness, apart from their ungracious braying and he-hawing, self-satisfactorily and blasé.
This is how it is intended to be by those same governors and by prominent people. A printer at a Fleet Street works may have been frowned upon for his insistence on ‘jobs for the boys’ whereby his sons, usually in those days sons, were those who were prominently eligible to become a printer, and no ‘outsiders’ were entertained for these posts. But let that charge be levelled at the political parties and there will be outraged uproar, utter denial - and I am suddenly a pariah. They know that they need only shout ’foul!’ loud enough and they will prevail, because they have in their pockets, alongside their buddies the press and broadcasting, the people they have gratuitously refused education to a level where they might think for themselves.
The history of the past two decades, if anyone living in Britain today will look back and check out, shows this is the case; and not just in times of crisis but with any issue which raises itself up to threaten these privileged sitting tenants in closed shops.
It’s worth noting that the people lower down the social scale themselves are not angels. Nor would they prove any better at governing or broadcasting, nor would they be more generous to their former leaders, were they to become the governors, than these present leaders are to them at present. Social justice, as far as it goes, in no adequate answer; but should that difficulty be used as a preventative argument against the poorer people having richer lives of experience?
The guff that comes out of mouths about ‘every life being sacrosanct and no person should be deprived of this, and should as a human right have this’ - all this stuff is said in ‘bad faith’; since the personal and joint common interests of the speakers always prevail; and these interests glue things in place in the order and the regiment in which they actually are.
Under Plato’s schema, although much adulterated, our governors, professionals and the media people are The Guardians – don’t laugh – those persons who rule but who rule out of duty and not by liking. The Philosopher Kings (Queens). How much philosophy have we seen applied in and from Parliament?
Those who get their children into the good state schools, these are the class who are administrators, servants of the Kings, and loyal, but somewhat blind as to philosophy, knowing only that the rule of The Philosopher Kings is ‘for the best’. The remainder, the hoi polloi, the helots, the lesser holpites, are those who are wage slaves and work the mines and dig the soil.
Plato himself might be dreadfully affronted and feel very misunderstood were such a scheme as we have in place today be in any way associated with his venerable name.
As for Utilitarianism, let us think of it as triage. This is especially poignant at the moment and sadly perhaps the only best practical way to deal with this crisis? Resources are scarce and there is not enough go round sometimes. Sometimes resources are altogether not appropriate to be used up on a given situation.
(I would say that like education, medical treatment is also either at the point of provision free of charge to all in Britain, or else bought in from private facilities at considerable expense by those well off few, and so a triage involving class again raises its head concerning this nation and it redounds sometimes uglily on the otherwise uniformly Utilitarian practice of triage as regards healthcare here. Just as one can buy one’s child an education – being a ticket to high-level social acceptance and all the hobnob credentials - to the top, so in many cases, if one can afford it, one can buy health and longevity. Few people who are excluded from the elites kick up a stink about this - again this is because the topic is ‘not up for general discussion’ since the agendas for discussion are set by the people having an interest in keeping such matters quiet. Our common people are so forgiving because they are so ill-informed, they are so complacent because they listen to their leaders and their broadcasters and press, and are they so contented because like animals on the sheep trailers they know nothing better)
If there is not in general a contempt felt for ‘low grade regional accent’ speakers in the hearts of those who are the privileged, and for those ‘low grade’ people’s minds and culture and social mores, then there is in general a dismissal of such people as them being on the whole of lesser value. They are considered inadequate to debate or discussion, and whose views are circumscribed by weak education and blind self-concern and primal emotions drives. As if this description was not the fit for most of us, whether rich or poor, educated or not, plum in the mouth when we speak, or incomprehensible Geordie? The thought that such ‘low grade’ persons cannot afford to be particular, or to be able to indulge a passions for exotic and arcane foods, for fine arts and opera and nice things from Knightsbridge – this does not enter the heads of ‘The Shining Ones’, but enters instead only the aversion from the unwashed, and from the perceived crudeness of the people’s manners.
In fact the ‘better people’ in society have little if any real clue as to how these ‘lower classes’ actually live. Hence David Cameron making a fool of himself with a pastie; and Ian Duncan Smith sympathising with benefit claimers and homeless by saying he lived homeless in his uncle’s mansion on loan for a few weeks between buying houses. Hence Andrew Mitchell and the ‘pleb’ affair. Even today that famous comment about ‘his servants’ of the judge at the Lady Chatterley trial pertains, in its latest guises – being seen whenever politicians hopelessly show they are not ‘of the people’ whenever they try to be ‘of the people’.
I am not denying ‘quality’ in people; I am not saying that some people are not better fitted to, say, run the country, or to sit on a judges bench, or to educate one’s children - palpable and clearly there are great differences between people and their abilities. However to claim via exclusive education, manner of speech, and way of life, that all virtue belongs to us, and to you the remainder very little belongs, is not and can be demonstrated to be not the case. And besides this unless a person has what I’ll term ‘character’ s/he will never be of use whatever s/he does in public service, no matter how otherwise gifted and/or privileged.
By ‘character’ I mean in possession of such things as moral integrity, lending an honour to due weight, due process, respect for persons, conscience, and readiness to serve without a side eye to income or benefit, willingness to override party concerns, to speak truth as far as it is seen, and to admit errors and, most importantly, to act to rectify and make them good. And no-one needs an education, or an accent, or a class membership, for a person to attain to these qualities, in so far as they are humanly attainable.
One must always remember that just as the victors of a conflict write the histories of that conflict, so too the upper echelons of any society make the rules for all in that society, including making them for all those beneath them to adhere to. So why should they not favour themselves in the writing of those rules; and the moreso the more they are without ‘character’. And the most telling point of character is to be able ‘to see ourselves as others see us’, as Cromwell said ‘warts and all’, but if you consider you got to the top because you are so gifted, and rose by natural ability etc etc, that you were ‘born to rule’, or that you are something special, especially this last, then your rules will reflect this vainglory, and so justice and the people lower down the scale will suffer for your own vanities’ sake.
Hence you hear comic/shocking stories drifting out of The House of Commons now and then, about MPs groping female MPs in the bar and about pornography on PCs in Private Offices, about drunken Bullingdon Club type parties…
To do well it’s not enough to appear squeaky clean, but a person has to be squeaky clean. Here’s John Milton on his what I call ‘character’ and on the needs for The Standards in Public Life, and regardless of class or other origins:
“Is not a far more perfect work, more agreeable to his perfections, in the most perfect state of the church militant, the new alliance of God to man? Should not he rather now by his own prescribed discipline have cast his line and level upon the soul of man, which is his rational temple, and, by the divine square and compass thereof, form and regenerate in us the lovely shapes of virtues and graces, the sooner to edify and accomplish that immortal stature of Christ’s body, which is his church, in all her glorious lineaments and proportions? And that this indeed God hath done for us in the gospel we shall see with open eyes, not under a veil”
At the moment our leaders are not like this at all. Their aspirations are tarnished and grovelling. They are our tail, and we the people governed, are the dog, being wagged. Their performance, I do not say policies, there seem to be none, is redounding badly on us all, and not merely because of decisions made in time of plague, since in addition they have failed in so much extraneous to Covid. One does not readily hear so much about this in media, this government has been a disaster which has been crowded out of the airwaves by morbid mania.
There is then the concept of ‘meritocracy’ upon which so much is said in praise, and by inference the ‘successful’ are praising themselves when they air they encomiums on it, and are lauding their colleagues, whenever they uphold meritocracy as a national ideal. The trappings of ‘meritocracy’ - intelligence, education, skills, and its vaguer concepts such as ability, and achievement; all these are in fact not to be imputed as meritorious in any way, since they are ‘givens’. One is likely born intelligent more so or less so; one is born into a situation where good education is more or less assumed (although a privilege). Skills do reflect ‘character’ somewhat as does some of ability and achievement; but in essence it is one’ s behaviour only which is accountable good or bad, and all these other things being without ‘character’ go for very little in life in truth.
I go so far as to say that many cabinet people do not even realise how corrupt they are; do not understand that there are words like ‘nepotism’ and ‘cronyism’ which apply to their dealings, and which indiscretions openly in public they have acknowledged, as if there were no offence or they were not improper. This is besides the granting of contracts without having done due diligence, and so at enormous waste of expense to the nation, the people.
This phenomenon then is of ‘the tail wagging the dog’ and it applies equally also to the regimen of business corporations and their chiefs. Take Microsoft. It has the lion’s share of a global market in what it does. Against the ethos of anti-cartel, anti monopoly, law, and Microsoft is one example only, and many, maybe most, corporations do this sort of thing, the company is known to inbuild incompatibilities into its products so as to disadvantage its competitors. Even where competitors have a better preforming product, such barriers to its usage are maintained, so that the net effect is not ‘meritocracy’ in the marketplace, but sheer dominance by might and sway of market power. The line that defenders of capitalism take that capitalism promotes competition which forces downwards prices and upwards quality, is in this regard, and in many more regards, just some pipe dream from a textbook. In fact quality is being held back from winning favour in the market and by such power-wielding dominance in the marketplace which corporations as a whole fiercely maintain. They maintain it by advertising and marketing; by being able to spend more money to hold their ground, including in the courts, than others are able to; and regardless of the quality of the products they offer. Maybe once upon a time any particular corporation was an honest leader, breaking ground, novel, buoyant, interesting, lively and making desirable items. But as in human life, age sets in, and dad can no longer play football with the grown up kids, atrophy hits the corporations, and so they become ineffective and cumbersome and hard to manage well, and their products trend towards at best routine, and not innovative.
Overwhelmingly the best things, including business ventures, are small and local and run charged with the fire of social well-being and community. The corporations are the tails wagging their market share of consumers, the dogs.
These tails wagging dogs are like the hero of Richard Dawkin’s famous novel, “The Selfish Gene”. A quirky idea, and a value judgement (not least on human life and on that life’s existential value) – but a judgement on what? On the society we live in, and the times we have made for ourselves to share, and live out. A society all for the next new novelty, the new outrageous, the unexpected, the next notch on the ratchet, the thing that shocks the traditionalists, all this is our feed and water; so why not have tails wagging dogs in quirky novels about biology?
Lastly, with which item I bring this piece to a close, the latest, and so far in our times, the ultimate tail wagging the dog, are the scientists, (and the politicians), and their love/hate affair with Covid. Suddenly the immuno-biologists, the epidemiologists, the statisticians, and medical officers everywhere have become overnight sensations. All of us in the UK are under such a state of restrictions and emotional blackmails and close to verbal threats, all come from ‘official’ sources, that ‘bullying’ in near to being a correct word. As with the vaccines there has been competition, in the truest capitalist form, and at shops, in streets, some of us are outdoing others, either in the masking up line, or in the vigilante ‘I’m your watchdog’ outbursts on the streets, the sticklers for ‘proper conduct’ have their knives out, and the governors are giving them a good lead by way of their having sanctioned, shown them the way, by use of such bullyboy methods, and talk, and restrictions.
The virus is the thing, the tail, which has been made by our leaders and professionals to be wagging us, the dog. I am so angry that every day there is a good news item one day, and the next day, a bad news item undermines that good news item of the day before. This cannot be but deliberately being done. Stick and carrot, mule and master.
It’s a simple zero-sum game being played. To keep us all in the channels, the ruts, made by the governors for us to be in. Are we to keep borders closed altogether and forever; since the mutations, variants, whatever; seem to be keeping coming and there’s no other solution than to blockade ourselves – since they can’t be home-grown can they?
How long is it going to be until, if we ever get there, we accept life’s hazards as they are, as they were, as they always have been, will be? Smallpox is eradicated; polio is gone; TB is largely beaten – at least in UK. But stuff like flu and common colds, which are more like Covid, there had been up until now an general acceptance that we just have to live with them. This is not cruel, my saying this, because someday we are going to have to do this – or else live a life of badgerings and marshallings and vyings for ‘do it my way, - no, my way’ and so not worth living.
Instead we let this virus, at which we vaunt so highly we shall ‘beat’ it; and that ‘humanity will triumph’ and all the rest, instead we let it dominate our every moment of consciousness. Many people have bee scared and scarred seriously and maybe lifelong by this affair and its conducting by our leaders and scientists, most especially our children who have no critical capacities as yet. All they see is ‘mummy’s petrified’ and ‘she won’t even let us out of the house’. Things like these stay with a child. The susceptibility of hardened men to battle action PTSD is renowned – how then will our children fare with this affair? Will they be wearing trendy perspex visors on their deathbeds in 2100? Not allowing a doctor or a priest near them for fear?
Fear is the great divider of people. Fear is a bringer of needless sufferings (excepting the fear of God which is a blessing and made in love). Fear leads to irrational and/or bad decisions. Fear spreads like wildfire in a community especially when there are so many unknowns at hand. Fear often leads to violence, fight or flee reactions. Fear incapacitates and at its worst can paralyse the will and the steadiness of an arm to act. Fear is a destroyer. Fear is an evil. Fear is the devil’s ally. A person of ‘character’ - I do not mean myself – I have lots of problems – in the ultimate case, carries within that ‘perfect love which casts out fear’ in their hearts. The women and the men who attended the victims and survivors of The Black Death; the ones who on the field of battle run with a stretcher to a wounded soldier to rescue him; the guys and women who died in the flames of martyrdom; The Lord Jesus Christ who for their loved sakes died to save sinners whilst they were still sinners. These are our true mentors, these are our true examples, paradigms, role models.
"For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
“Jesus said to His disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storehouse or barn; yet God feeds them. How much more valuable you are than the birds!…”