Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Wheat from the Chav

Our collective consciousness has been struggling for awhile. Our ‘Right’ brain tells us it is essential to apply selection vigorously – keep separating out the worthy from the undeserving, those with potential from the hopeless – start the process from the earliest possible age, and carry on for the rest of their lives so we are continuously sifting out the just-not-good-enough from the most able. This way society rewards those who will make the greatest achievements. Meanwhile, our ‘Left’ brain is troubled by the presence of the disconnected – those who care little for social values, they think they get nothing out of society and certainly don’t want to put anything in. We wonder what has gone wrong.

A complete schizophrenic flip to the Right would suggest that those who drop out at the bottom of the relentless selection processes should not be left to act as they please. If they could not comply with the basic requirements of decent behaviour, they should be locked away in prison. On the other hand, an excessive surge from the Left could start a call for the abolition of all selections, leaving everyone to be treated in exactly the same way regardless of their attitudes or talents.

To regain our common sanity, we had better rethink how we got here. In many ways, it began with a neurosis about not allowing people to flourish enough. We had become obsessed that people were held back from fully unleashing their potential. If only they were told that the more they demonstrated how good they could be, the more they would be singled out for greater rewards, then we would see many more of them coming to the fore, improving life along the way for everyone.

But that was the critical point. What kind of potential unleashed would really improve life for everyone? Where do we most need improvements? Well, we need more nurses, teachers, carers, youth workers, we need them with more skills, more confidence to help all of us, young and old, to lead the most fulfilling lives we’re capable of. Yet these are the people who are now told that they must accept wage constraints, that however hard they are already working, they cannot be paid anywhere near as much as people who do far less than they to help their fellow citizens.

So who are the people who have been separated out for encouragement, praise, and ever-growing rewards? They are the ones who are blessed with the skills to navigate their way up the corporate ladder, come up with ideas to hook consumers into buying worthless, harmful or addictive goods and services which serve only to make their companies more money, and convince their board and the share market that they are the leaders to be trusted. They are the ones who are handed the tax break, the hundred-times-higher-than-their-employees salaries, multiple bonuses, and share options to smooth their rise to the top of the plutocracy.

Maybe we can begin to heal our cerebral disorientation by recognizing that selection and reward have their use only if we direct them to where we need more people to take up socially valuable vocations. Misdirecting them to promote the narrow class of business climbers and consumerist peddlers does little to help society, and breeds distrust and resentment amongst those brushed aside as unworthy. Worst of all, it concentrates power more and more in the hands of corporate chavs who have little connection with the rest of society apart from their determination to display their distinct and frankly unimpressive identity.

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