In 1958, the British sociologist, Michael Young wrote ‘The Rise of the Meritocracy’; his book was a warning – that such a society would overvalue the winners and undervalue the losers – that a new level of hubris would increase social division.
The mile of country road down to my cottage is barely the width of two cars – locals slow right down. Visitors, in over-sized SUVs, drive too fast – frequently forcing us off the tarmac into potholes. These drivers seem to believe that, they have earned (merited) the right to drive a ‘superior’ vehicle and that ‘inferior’ vehicles can be disregarded. Sorry for this rant – but these incidents leave me with rage.
Like everyone, I wonder what changes the pandemic will inspire. After the trauma of the first world war, western society threw a great party – for years (the roaring twenties). After the second world war, Brits achieved an amazing surge in universal wellbeing, through visionary health and welfare provisions; I grew up in the best of that world. But, after Thatcher – and four decades of free-market globalisation – our world is distorted by profound inequalities.
Personally, the pandemic has shown me that I am not as self-made and self-sufficient as I assumed; that my survival depends not only on the support of others, but to a major extent on good fortune (luck); this realisation brings a certain humility. My hope is that the pandemic will point us beyond the ‘tyranny of merit’ – towards a more generous public life.
In Carry On Cleo (1964), Kenneth Williams utters the immortal line: “Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it infamy!” That’s how Kenny Farquharson introduces his (excellent) article in The Times this week – about Alex Salmond’s latest fantasy that he’s the victim of a vast and sinister plot, spanning the entire Scottish establishment. Farquharson’s take is that this affair is not about conspiracy – but revenge. Salmond’s position seems to be one of anger, that former colleagues didn’t hush up complaints about his alleged sexual misconduct – anger that some even assisted police conducting a criminal enquiry; he wants retribution. The former First Minister should be aware that most Scots think he was very fortunate to be acquitted of criminality – that, when in hole, he should stop digging.
I don’t believe that Keir Starmer has the ‘presence’ (an anxious family solicitor?) to lead Labour back to power but Will Hutton believes that his major speech last week, got more right than wrong. Hutton sets the future role of the state in a helpful historical context – but I want more ’socialism’ than the Blairites.
An exception to the rule that politicians tell lies, is Green MP, Caroline Lucas, whom I trust; she is a supporter of the crowdfunded, not-for-profit Good Law Project, which has successfully sued Matt Hancock for unlawful secrecy around the awarding of £billions of Govt contracts to friends and supporters of the Tories. Banana republic behaviour.
It will take some time to absorb the full implications of the Supreme Court ruling – that UBER drivers have employee entitlements, especially the minimum wage. I like this post by Darren Newman, who is clearly delighted. The sheer scale of UBER’s arrears, questions whether its business model can survive – or that of other GIG economy outfits. This ruling is momentous.
Our First Minister recently pledged £250 million to tackle the ‘national disgrace’ (her term) of Scots’ drug deaths. This Conversation piece by academic, Ian McPhee, demolishes the ‘official’ myth about ageing addicts; links the majority of deaths to young people from areas of high inequality; reveals that the ‘national disgrace’ is the level of stigma and discrimination in the system against addicts. Some of us argue for independence so we can enact our more ‘caring’ Scottish attitude, like: “who cares if they die, they’re only junkies”.
Simone Weil (1909 -1943) was a French philosopher and mystic, whose stuff I read (anti dogma) in the 1970s/80s. Weil recounted a specific ‘euphoric’ incident in 1937 – which Edward Hirsch wrote a poem about, called ‘Simone Weil in Assisi’:
“She disliked the miracles in the gospel. She never believed in the mystery of contact here below, between a human and a God. She despised popular tales of apparitions.
But that afternoon in Assisi, she wandered through the abominable Santa Maria degli Angeli and happened upon a little marvel of Romanesque purity where St Francis like to pray.
She was there a short time when something absolute and omnivorous, something she neither believed nor disbelieved, something she understood – but what was it? – forced her to her knees.”