April 23, 2012

Is the Guardian making you Stupid?


I was having a cup of tea and re-watching the night before’s Newsnight with a old university friend last week- the rock and roll lifestyle I lead. He’s a Labour party activist and an investment banker, which in itself is an interesting piece of cognitive dissonance to possess (…perhaps for another time), but he is critical of much of the grass roots of his party. Though aims are admirable, what he sees amongst the party rank-and-file is a failure to engage with the public at large. Of course the provision of welfare is important for the most vulnerable in society and should be safeguarded by government, so the party faithful take it as read; despite the reality being that much of the British population do not. Simply put, they fail to explain why an idea that they take for granted, should be taken for granted, or taken at all in fact. His point got me thinking because this phenomenon isn’t just true of leftwing party politics.

Recently I have been struck by the extent to which the debate that I am engaged in, at work, at home, amongst my friends there seem to be a certain set of truths which we hold apparent, beliefs that are seen as universal and doctrinal. But time and again these are proved not to be the case.

Racism is wrong. John Terry and Luis Suarez clearly didn’t get the memo…or the Met…


Capital punishment is bad. Not according to most ‘state-of-the nation’ surveys


Multicultural Britain brings vibrancy to our nation. Bradford Riots, remember those? And all of the EDLs recent marches


And these are just the most obvious ones that spring to mind while I tap away at the keyboard. Just because  #creepingshariah can start trending doesn’t mean there is some kind of triumphant consensus of reason in this country. But so many of us who work in the civil service, or the ‘cultural industries’ those that influence the ‘national agenda‘ believe these things to be set in stone. Even if we look back over our recent history, these have been hard fought and hard won victories for liberalism- with a very small L- (the Equalities act went on the statute books in….drumroll please… 2010) and as such are, in the big scheme of things, young, fragile and growing saplings, not great-trunked trees in the forest of this country’s uncodified constitution. I don’t want to get into that conversation in detail here- @jacksimsoncaird is the person to get in touch with for matters politico-legal- but the point here is that these new positions need to be challenged and then defended vigorously, nurtured and propagated. If they are not reaffirmed in the face of questioning then they wither. The whole nation is not the 217k-odd people who read the Guardian, who in turn set an agenda that is attuned only to views such as their own.

Simply put, I am consistently exposed to a chorus of general agreement. Abu Qatada has been found to be a criminal, and should be treated as such, but over grilled vegetables or a quick halloumi panini the chatter is one of variations on a theme, rather than actual debate. Its those so-called self-evident truths again. Only once have I heard a topical conversation where someone has cited a paper other than the Guardian or the Observer, and it was the FT. If you are reading this post, when was the last time you picked up a red-top? When was the last time you had a conversation in a pub with someone in a ‘working-class’ job (city-boy turned Plumber doesn’t count)? When was the last time you took yourself outside of that liberal monoculture of cycle-commuting, flat-whites and upcycling that you inhabit and engaged with views totally alien to yours, that start from first principles other than your own? When was the last time you considered that people even start from first principles other than the ones you hold true?

After asking myself this, I decided that enough is enough, to do a job in which I have to understand the relationship between Housewives from Hull and their sandwich spreads, or kids from estates in Camden and their relationship with trainers, I can’t live in that same bubble that is surprised when confronted with a view radically different from theirs, who see discimination as shocking, rather than a sad fact of life that needs to be addressed and changed and who rarely have their own bloviated opinions challenged by testing them in the crucible of real difference. So I am giving up the Guardian, kicking the habit; I breathe in enough second hand hoke anyway.