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Sunday, 28 January 2018

Re-defining the word "Intimate": Modern Bollocks, Number III in an occasional series

"Prince Harry and Ms Markle will get married in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. It holds about 800 people, making it a more intimate setting than the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's wedding in Westminster Abbey."

BBC News website, 28 January 2018, explaining why President Trump does not have an invitation

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Wind The Bobbin Up: Mumsnet and the Satanic Mills

A user on Mumsnet has called out the nursery rhyme Wind the Bobbin Up. I have cut and pasted from the Internet:

“Wind the bobbin up originated in the cotton mill towns of the north of England in Victorian times,” she wrote.
“As anyone who knows a bit about a bit history can tell you, the cotton mills were horrendous places which horrifically exploited women and children, forcing them to do dangerous work in appalling conditions for little pay.”
“How can it be right to trivialise these horrors by getting children to sing a light-hearted ditty about it… It’s offensive to the memory of all those who suffered these horrendous conditions and experienced serious injury or even death as a result of hideously exploitative working practices,” she finished her post.
The author does not tell us who originated this "ditty", though it may well have been some of those horrifically exploited women and children; the Opies date the rhyme to Yorkshire in the 1890s. If its origins are humble, then the Mumsnet writer in downgrading it from a singing rhyme to a "ditty" might be accused of trivialising their imaginative creation.

When I sing the rhyme to myself I use the words Wind my bobbin up which is a corruption but one which reflects the fact that songs and rhymes get their living meaning from what we now do with them rather than what they might once have meant or been used for. Children singing this rhyme in a school today are not being prepared for a grim life in satanic mills; the rhyme is employed because it is fun and promotes hand- eye co-ordination and so on. In this case, I am prepared to give schools the benefit of the doubt on their motives.

It's rather a tribute to the memory of those who worked in the mills that this rhyme is not simply a museum piece, but something which new and hopefully more fortunate generations can enjoy,

The Mumsnet post may be a hoax, designed to draw out the Political Correctness Gone Mad headline; but the surfeit of adjectives and adverbs simply suggest bad faith.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The Social Function of Political Correctness: Do Your Shoes Shine in the Right Kind of Way?

This Blog post has been rewritten 25 March 2018

In all societies, at least some important goods are scarce. In all societies, goods are unequally distributed. Some societies are more rigid than others but probably none prevent all kinds of upwards social mobility. In a despotic monarchy, a king surrounded by unreliable nobles, each with their own power base, may choose to promote to high office a complete outsider -   someone who has no title, who owns no land, and who may even dress badly and speak coarsely. That person is completely dependent on the king and so the high office does not strengthen an existing power base. That is why the person has been favoured.

It’s supposed to be the case that in caste societies you cannot move up from your caste of birth, or down for that matter, but that in class societies you can. Nonetheless, in class societies it’s blindingly obvious that though those one step up are obliged or even willing to admit newcomers to their ranks, entry is always policed in one way or another. If too many people are trying to climb the ladder at some historical moment, you can be sure that more rungs will be added to it to make the climb more difficult and to reduce the numbers of those making the upward ascent.

When Britain was numerically dominated by an industrial working class, some members of that class sought to differentiate themselves from the mass and thereby achieve a sort of internal mobility. If you played your cards right, you could make yourself better off than those around you. The key to this internal mobility was respectability which took you away from the roughness of those around you. Over time, the markers of respectability evolved but for most of the industrial period they included habits of religious observance, sobriety (which quite often meant total abstention from alcohol), avoidance of coarse language, primness, cleanliness and thrift. When you got down to the smaller details, they might include shining your shoes, having net curtains, and reading The Daily Mail rather than a workers’ rag like the Daily Herald (now The Sun).

Those who pursued respectability were most often taking their cues from what was then called the lower middle class of people who did very modest jobs that did not involve getting their hands dirty. There was no such thing as rough lower middle class and the lower middle class as a whole renewed itself by recruiting from the ranks of respectable working class or their children. The daughter of a miner might become an elementary school teacher; the son of a factory hand an office clerk. But the entrance tests, the signs you had to display to move up, were quite demanding and, of course, differentiated by sex. The use of a swear word which might be tolerated in a male could be fatal to the aspirations of a female.

A very obvious site for the struggle of the respectable to separate themselves from the rough was school uniform and to this day a depressingly familiar newspaper story informs us that a head teacher has sent all the pupils home for breaches of some set of wilfuly elaborate school uniform rules. He or she has stood at the school gates, assisted by highly paid deputies. School budgets in England always contain a significant slice to pay this Uniform Police time. It’s one reason why there is so little learning in English schools.

The industrial working class and the lower middle class, symbiotic with it, are no longer with us, though it is a bit unclear what is with us.

My own lifetime has been marked by the advent of mass higher education, every polytechnic and technical college turned into a university to keep young people out of the labour force for three more years after the end of a schooling extended to eighteen. This expansion does not appear to have been associated with an expansion in the number of jobs for which a university degree was traditionally an entry requirement. Nor do the degrees with which young people graduate obviously equip them for new jobs which have emerged. Instead, many graduates now face the prospect of working in low-paid, low-status jobs which do not make any use of what they studied at university. In other words, the graduate barista.

But there’s some nice work if you can get it and for that work there is fairly intense competition. Most people would like a decent salary, decent career structure, decent pension. It is in this context that I believe we should understand what is called political correctness at least insofar as it is something driven by organisations like the National Union of Students and by young graduate employees. The social function of political correctness is not to make society a nicer place in which to live; it is to keep potential competitors away from desirable jobs. It is a sharp-elbowed politics of exclusion rather than a cuddly-bear politics of inclusion.

The topics which agitate the sharp-elbowed are simply a revised and updated version of those which agitated the defenders of respectability. The emphasis on unacceptable language is the most obvious example. Where once coarseness would block upward mobility, especially for females, now language which can be construed as racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic … will halt you in your career tracks.  Tellingly, the list keeps getting longer and the barrier raised. Words which were acceptable to those who first thought of political correctness no longer are. I think this is indicative of the real intensity of competition for scarce goods. 

There is one key difference. Whereas one hundred years ago, women were most likely to fall foul of respectability tests, which were always set higher for them than for men, today it is men who are most often tripped up. That may reflect nothing more than the fact that mass higher education has hugely increased the participation of females in higher education, where they often form a numerical majority. At the same time, more women want to participate on a permanent basis in economic activity. The truth is, sexual equality in the job market cannot be achieved without some men going down the social mobility ladder and faults against political correctness are one way of kicking them down. Just as in the past, coarse language excluded women from respectability so now the wrong words can exclude men from desirable employments.

Time and time again, those who fall foul of the vigilantes of political correctness are groups like male-dominated or male-exclusive sports clubs and other “fraternity” outfits. They are not organisations which appeal to me - they are too much  like permanent stag do’s -  and I realise that the mass expansion of higher education means that some students are not just rough but downright unpleasant.  But I am not convinced that the vigilantes always occupy the moral high ground.  In the past, dreadful things went on behind the net curtains of respectable homes. I am pretty sure that some dreadful things are said and done behind the closed doors of righteous groups who self-identify as this-or-that. Just as with the deranged headteacher at the school gates, measuring hair and finger nail length and goodness knows what else, political correctness can and does assume absurd and grotesque forms – hence all the stories of “Political Correctness Gone Mad”. But the madness is not just a mental disturbance; it has very material roots.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Going Viral?

At this time of year, I spend a lot of time trying to avoid viruses. But I think I should make it a year-round preoccupation. There are so many things which go viral. Admittedly, their half-life is very short. But, still, all of them are best avoided. They do damage your mental health. Right now, there are people all round the world sitting at home thinking about how they can make themselves go viral. Don't encourage them. Disconnect from Twitter and you are already half way back to living a viral-free life.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Modern Bollocks II: Stars in Their Words › News › Donald Trump

Trump Refers to "S***hole Countries" During Immigration Meeting With ...

President Trump denies making 's******e countries' comment during a ...

Question: Who is Being Protected from What by Whom?

Modern Bollocks

Police had been unable to tell the age or gender of the victim because the body was so badly charred

BBC News 12 January 2018