I think there is a case to be made that radicals need to perform a multitude of tasks to help make society less oppressive and exploitative, including pointing out why the current system is flawed. I suppose there is a case to be made that the radical left does have a tendency to spend the majority of it’s time analysing and pointing out the worst aspects of the current systems and structures, and not enough of it’s time conceptualising and debating the practicalities of a model to aim towards. But, I would argue, that there is a reason for that. A population-wide education system focussed on teaching superiority and inferiority.
As someone that has had to largely educate myself as an adult, I am more than aware of the fact that many, not all, but many of the private-school and elite-university educated people I have talked politics with over the years have thought that their ‘qualifications’ and ‘education’ were enough to validate their opinions. And in contrast, my lack of ‘qualifications’ and ‘education’ was the main reason why my opinions were less valid. It took a while for me to realise that sounding well-informed and rational, and saying something well-informed and rational, can be easily mistaken for one another. Specially if you accept one of the key tenets of a two-tier education system, that it is teaching superiority and inferiority based on ability to pay.
One of the key skills taught by this two-tier model of education is to appear deserving of the status that you were born into. In order for poor people to believe that they are inferior, they first have to be taught that they are inferior and the easiest way to do that is to create a series of false signifiers, such as type of accent, education, culture, taste … etc., that signposts inferiority. And this is a polar equation. For one person to be inferior, someone else must be taught to be superior. Which is why it appears that our ‘civilisation’ is largely teaching superiority to those that can afford it, and inferiority to those that can’t. This acts as one of the key building blocks of a stratified society, dissipating outwards beyond class, into gender and race as well. It is arguably one of the primary foundations of the matrix of oppression.
Society is structured in such way that theses signifiers taught in childhood then become the measure of one’s value to society in adulthood, and therein the passport to power. By paying for my child to go to a ‘good’ school, I buy a ‘good’ accent, network, friends, cultural knowledge, class confidence, and fast-track to the ‘best’ university available. And who could begrudge me doing what is best for my child. I am simply being a ‘good’ parent. Then when my child graduates with their ‘good’ degree, they enter into the workplace, where those same purchased signifiers now act as the prerequisite for a leg up onto the fourth or fifth rung of that ‘good’ career ladder.
It is at that point that the class contract really kicks in. The rest of that class steps in to ensure that the young adult in question will both benefit from their new position, while at the same time maintaining that same system for the rest of their class to follow in their footsteps. And when the time comes, if that adult does it’s duty to it’s class, it will be equally able to buy it’s children a place on that same journey. And from one generation to the next it goes. All the while, people doing the best with what it is available to them. Who can begrudge them that?
Of course, once in a while they let a few outsiders in, but this just helps to perpetuate the myth of it being a meritocracy. And of course the contract for the outsiders has slightly different obligations, one of which is to wheel out their rags-to-riches fairytale whenever the system requires it.
And this is why I think it is so important that progressives, amongst their numerous other responsibilities, keep reassuring and informing everyone that not only are they not inferior, but it is an illusion built into the system that makes them feel that way. The easiest way to do that, is to keep pointing out the flaws, and lies, and cruelty, and exploitation, inherent in the system. And perhaps just as importantly, the structures and process where the true responsibility and control resides.
Of course, it is also important to understand the direction that we would rather travel in, and what the destination we are aiming for would most probably look like. After all, many people still believe that they have no right to question the status quo. We are living in a society where this same class-based inferior / superior dichotomy plays out in within the mainstream culture, in terms of who has the right to question authority and who must cower in silent deference. The politicians, business people, journalists, and even academics, that are chosen to pontificate as the ‘expert witness’ during public discussions, almost without exception come from those backgrounds and positions I am talking about. Those teaching superiority, are almost without exception, those that have been taught to believe they are superior.
I would say that it is this culture of the ‘expert witness’ model in political discourse propagated by mainstream media, that plays a large part in a great many people feeling nervous to vocalise their opinions, or more importantly feeling whether they even have the right to question authority. Being able to read Plato in ancient Greek doesn’t make your opinion any more valid. Being able to quote Hume or Smith, doesn’t mean your intellect trumps someone else’s compassion. All this knowledge does is demonstrate that you have studied the journey that has brought us to this point. What someone does with that knowledge is the measure of their compassion for others.
Culturally the system functions, among other things, as a way of undermining the confidence of normal people from feeling able to comment about their own lives and the lives of their loved ones. One of the aspects of creating a culture that is built around the appearance of an intellectually superior / inferior dichotomy, but in reality is masking a wider framework of an economic / political power dichotomy based on inherited privilege is the need to make superiority purchasable for a very limited few. The two-tier education system does exactly that. In playing into the class-based illusion of the ‘expert’ witness, it is teaching superiority to the few, and forcing deference on the many.
And in keeping with my pattern of behaviour, I am taking this opportunity to put up a review I did of Liz Fekete’s quite brilliant analysis of the growth of fascism beneath the shift to the right by sections of the establishment political and media elite. This review was originally published in the Morning Star on 5th January 2018. To read the unedited version here or to download a .txt version of it please click through to the page.