Wednesday, December 01, 2010
Leftist class chatter no longer matters in UK
INTELLECTUALS love to peddle the myth of an unfair, privileged society, but they're wrong.
I WAS recently invited to be on a panel at a conference in London, debating the relevance of social class in contemporary Britain. The topic was prompted by the fact Britain has just elected its first Old Etonian Prime Minister since 1964. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, was also at Eton, and the Deputy PM, Nick Clegg, attended Westminster, another exclusive public school. Does all this mean the traditional ruling class is staging a comeback?
British commentators love discussing this sort of thing, for they are obsessed by class divisions. When television producers are not busy filming Edwardian upstairs-downstairs dramas, movie-makers are working on tales of plucky steelworkers being made redundant by Margaret Thatcher, colliery brass bands stoically playing on after their pit has closed, or miners' sons trying out as ballet dancers as their fathers go on strike. As economist Peter Bauer put it in a pamphlet 30 years ago, British intellectuals have "class on the brain".
So, nowadays, do British politicians. In the last three years of the Labour government, three official reports were commissioned on class inequality. They all concluded that Britain is an unfair society where lower-class children are blocked from realising their potential. Former cabinet minister Alan Milburn claimed in one of these reports: "Birth, not worth, has become more and more a determinant of people's life chances," and he concluded that Britain was "a closed shop society". Not to be outdone, the Tories (then in opposition) produced a report of their own, which proclaimed: "Social mobility has ground to a halt."
Similar claims were made by my fellow panellists at the conference. One was a journalist from the left-wing tabloid, The Daily Mirror. He told the audience: "Your parents' occupation will almost determine your occupation." Another was a sociologist at a further education college. He asserted: "Upward social mobility in Britain is a total myth."
I recently published a review of what the evidence on social mobility actually tells us. I found that movement in Britain is extensive, both up and down.
If we divide the population into a professional-managerial class at the top, a manual working class at the bottom, and an intermediate class in between, more than half the population is in a different social class from the one it was born into. One third of professional-managerial people come from manual worker backgrounds, and one in seven sons born to professional-managerial fathers end up as manual workers.
Even though Brits believe other countries are much more open than theirs, this degree of social mobility is similar to that found in other advanced, market-based societies. One study ranks Britain eighth of 15 countries; a bit more open than Germany, France and the Netherlands, a bit less than Sweden, the US and Australia. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development similarly puts Britain in the middle of its rankings of downward mobility (the best test of openness is downward mobility, for this tells you how far successful parents can pass on their privileges to their children).
Recruitment into social classes in Britain takes place largely on meritocratic principles, which is hardly surprising given that sensible employers will select bright and hard-working applicants ahead of posh ones. Your class origins do still have some influence on where you end up (given the importance of early years parenting, it would be extraordinary if they didn't), but raw ability and gutsy hard work count for much more. Your score on an IQ test at age 11 is three times more powerful than your parents' social class in predicting the occupational class you will achieve as an adult (and that is after controlling for any "class bias" in the IQ test).
Why, given this evidence, do intellectuals continue to claim Britain is an unfair, class-ridden country? And does this chatter matter?
The resilience of the myth may have something to do with the survival of the monarchy and aristocracy at the top of British society. This upper-class froth gives credence to left-wing claims that birth matters more than worth, even though this doesn't apply to the other 99 per cent of Britons.
This is why the doomsayers have seized on David Cameron's alma mater, for having an Old Etonian PM fits the stereotype of Britain they want to peddle.
These misleading claims matter, because they send out such a negative and counterproductive message to working-class children. The evidence tells us that, if you are bright and you work hard, there is nothing to stop you from succeeding in Britain, no matter where you start. But working-class kids are repeatedly being told by politicians, journalists and Marxist further education lecturers that it's all hopeless and their future is pre-determined.
Nothing is more likely to prevent lower-class children from succeeding than being told by opinion-formers that there is no point in them even trying.
Actually, we women do want men to be men
On Saturday afternoon, I emerged from the supermarket with two large bags packed to the brim, which my nine-year-old son then insisted on carrying to the car. As we had parked a good five-minute walk away, I spent some time trying to dissuade him.
‘My arms are strong,’ I said. ‘You’re younger and smaller than me and the bags are too heavy for you to carry that far.’ ‘But you don’t understand!’ he exploded. ‘I want to help you! I don’t want you to have to carry them!’
Without pausing to rest for so much as a second, he staggered with them all the way to the car and then, for good measure, heaved them into the boot. The look of triumph on his face as he did so said it all. Mission accomplished.
I thought of this yesterday morning on hearing the news that the MoD has decided that women will not be allowed to fight on the front line. The reason is not so much physical — though it is true that only a few women have the brute strength necessary — as psychological. On the front line, soldiers fight in small teams and the fact is, says the MoD, that a man who sees a woman injured would instinctively try to save her. The hard truth is that doing so in battle might endanger more lives.
The past few decades have seen men mired in confusion about their role in society. The fight for women’s equality was — and still is — essential. But it has left men unsure of their identities in a way that is damaging to both sexes.
No one wins if we pretend men don’t need to protect women; it is an atavistic instinct and to deny that — whether by insisting on equality on the battlefield or refusing to let them carry the shopping — is foolhardy and dangerous. Sadly, we’ve reached the point where it’s commonplace to mock men.
It’s instructive to chart how this has come about. The Sixties and Seventies saw men throw off their Fifties suits and begin their feminisation by growing their hair long and wearing flowery shirts.
In the Eighties, they evolved into New Men capable of cooking quiche and changing a nappy.
And by the Nineties and the new millennium, the same men were becoming metrosexual or ‘just gay enough’ to appreciate the finer points of a woman’s wardrobe and understand all her mood swings, too.
Now, in 2010, the ideal man doesn’t even have a label, arguably because he’s widely assumed not to be significant enough. In popular culture, men are often depicted as gormless dolts (Homer Simpson) or well-meaning idiots (Ben Harper in My Family).
Meanwhile, the music charts are dominated by strong, raunchy women — Beyonce, Rihanna — whose songs are full of sexual innuendo in which they make the running and the demands.
And yet there is no doubt at all that despite all this, every modern woman — from Beyonce and Rihanna to Marge Simpson and Ben Harper’s feisty wife Susan — still wants, indeed expects, her man to step up and protect her and their children from danger, whether from a strange noise in the middle of the night or, God forbid, war.
What both sexes want is to feel useful and needed. Today, this is easier for a woman to achieve than a man: we care for our children, run our homes, feed our men and often do all that while holding down a successful job as well.
For men, the sense of duty done and sacrifice made is far harder to achieve. Understandably, they are terrified of being told they are not wanted or, worse, not needed. They genuinely don’t know if giving up their seat or offering to pay will cause offence. They worry they’re not manly enough and at the same time they worry they don’t understand us. They’d like to sweep us off our feet and into the bedroom, but are afraid they’ll be found wanting if they do.
By banning women from the front line on the grounds that men would instinctively put a female colleague’s life before their own, the MoD has done us all a favour by reminding us of an age-old truth: men need to be men — and actually, women want them to be men.
I have no problem with a man walking on my outside on the pavement, keeping his sword arm free. I’m happy to admit he’s likely to be stronger than me — and even if he’s not, as my nine-year-old son patently isn’t, I’m still happy for him to want to look after me. It’s the thought that counts, after all.
Want To Raise a Good Person? Stop Nurturing Your Child's Self-Esteem
By now, most people (with the exception of many psychotherapists) recognize that the self-esteem movement officially launched by California in 1986 has been at best silly and at worst injurious to society, despite whatever small benefit it may have had to some individuals.
The movement was begun by California Assemblyman John Vasconcellos. As The New York Times reported, "Mr. Vasconcellos, a 53-year-old Democrat, is described by an aide as 'the most radical humanist in the Legislature.'"
In an interview at the time, Vasconcellos told me he had personally benefited from therapy. It enabled him to improve the poor self-esteem he had inherited from his childhood. He therefore concluded that improving other people's self-esteem would greatly help society.
And so, California created its Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility, whose guiding principle was to raise young people's self-esteem in order to increase the number of socially responsible people in society.
This belief -- that increasing self-esteem among the members of society will increase goodness in society -- spread through the rest of America like proverbial wildfire.
It turns out, however, that the premise was entirely misguided. There is no correlation between goodness and high self-esteem. But there is a correlation between criminality and high self-esteem.
Florida State University Professor Roy Baumeister (Ph.D. psychology, Princeton University) has revealed that in a lifetime of study of violent criminals, the one characteristic nearly all these criminals share is high self-esteem.
Yes, people with high self-esteem are the ones most prone to violence.
The 1960s and '70s ushered in what I refer to as the Age of Feelings. And one of the most enduring feelings-based notions that came out of that era was that it was critically important that children feel good about themselves. High self-esteem, it was decided, should be imparted to children whenever possible -- no matter how undeserving. That is why boys on losing teams are given trophies, why more and more high schools have ceased naming a valedictorian (lest the other graduates feel bad about themselves), why some states have abolished winning and losing in children's soccer games (lest those on the losing teams suffer low self-esteem), etc.
A friend of mine provided me with a perfect illustration. At a Little League baseball game, he saw a pitch thrown a few feet above the batter's head. Needless to say, the batter didn't swing. But to my friend's amazement, he heard both the batter's father and coach yell out, "Good eye!" For those who don't know baseball, it does not take a "good eye" not to swing at a ball thrown over one's head. It takes a functioning eye.
One result of all this has been a generation that thinks highly of itself for no good reason. Perhaps the most famous example is the survey of American high school students and those of seven other countries. Americans came in last in mathematical ability but first in self-esteem about their mathematical ability.
But it turns out that feeling good about oneself for no good reason -- as destructive as that is -- is not the biggest problem. The child-rearing expert, psychologist John Rosemond, recently opened my eyes to the even more troubling problem: High self-esteem in children does not produce good character, and in fact is likely to produce a less moral individual.
This flies in the face of perhaps the deepest-held conviction among the present generation, as well as the baby boomers: That it is a parent's fundamental obligation to ensure that their child has high self-esteem.
Though I always opposed undeserved self-esteem, I, too, had bought into the belief that self-esteem in children is vital. But as soon as Rosemond said what he said, I realized he was right.
And since he said that, I have analyzed the finest adults I know well. It turns out that none had high self-esteem as a child. In fact, virtually most of them "suffered" -- as it would now be deemed -- from low self-esteem.
To cite one example, one of the finest human beings I have ever known -- an individual of extraordinary courage, integrity and selflessness -- had a father who constantly berated this person as worthless and stupid. Now, this father was, to put it mildly, a sick man. And he did indeed have a negative psychological impact on his child -- to this day, this person has low self-esteem. But it had no negative impact on this individual's sterling character.
The more I have thought about it, the more I have put Baumeister's and Rosemond's insights together.
If Baumeister is right, and violent criminals have higher self-esteem than most people, and if Rosemond is right, and people who do not grow up with high self-esteem are more likely to be among the finest human beings, then society has the strongest interest in not promoting self-esteem among children. Society's sole interest should be creating people of good character, not people with high self-esteem. And good character is created by teaching self-control, not self-esteem.
Now, let me be clear. No one is recommending that parents never praise a child or that parents seek to cultivate a low self-image in their child. And we assume that the child knows his parents love him/her. But, if raising good adults is the primary task of a parent -- and it surely must be -- trying to give one's child high self-esteem is not helpful, and it can easily be counterproductive.
If you don't agree with this conclusion, do the following: Ask the finest people you know how much self-esteem they had as a child. Then ask all the narcissists you know how much their parent(s) praised them.
Another Mysteriously Motivated Attack
A couple of weeks ago, on the occasion of the annual hajj, in which 2.5 million Muslim pilgrims fulfill their obligation to travel to Mecca, prominent Muslim clerics from Asia, Africa, and Europe, along with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iraq denounced violence in the name of Islam and issued a manifesto, signed by all, declaring that "murder of innocents is never justified and violates the teachings of Islam."
If you haven't heard about this, it's because it never happened. I conjured it to clarify the nature of the problem. Well-intentioned non-Muslims never tire of asserting that Islam is a religion of peace. Muslims themselves are a lot less forthright. (The Council on American-Islamic Relations has issued formal denunciations of terrorism, but coming from an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation terror financing case, such pious declarations are worthless.)
Still, before considering the response to the latest outrage perpetrated by a jihadi convinced that mass murdering Americans gathered to light the Portland, Ore., Christmas tree would land him in Paradise, it's important to pause and notice that while Muslim leaders leave a lot to be desired, average Muslims are heroes in this story.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the FBI was alerted to 19-year-old Somali-born Mohamed Osman Mohamud's increasing radicalization by someone who knew him well. Other sources suggest that Mohamud had quarreled with his family and felt "betrayed" that they did not support his violent ambitions. Reading between the lines, it seems likely that one or both parents (both of whom, by the way, are described as loving America) alerted the FBI.
Further, the elaborate sting orchestrated by the FBI had to involve agents posing as Islamic radicals. I'm guessing here, but it seems unlikely that the agents were non-Muslims. There are probably too many subtle things a non-Muslim would get wrong. So kudos to whoever tipped the FBI to the danger, and to the (presumably) Muslim agents who saw the thing to fruition and arrest.
On the other hand, those Americans who think that respecting the majority of non-violent Muslims requires a mealy-mouthed denial of reality are doing no one any favors.
Some criminal lit a fire at a Corvallis, Ore., mosque a day or so after Mohamud's arrest. This elicited a scolding declaration from the U.S. Attorney, Dwight Holton. Did he denounce the resort to violence by anyone? No. He intoned, "The fact is that violent extremists come from all religions and no religion at all. For one person to blame a group, if that's what happened here, is uniquely anti-American and will be pursued with the full force of the Justice Department."
Of course whole groups should not be blamed for the actions of individuals. Yes, the Justice Department should pursue the arsonist. And, yes, violent extremists can be motivated by all sorts of things. But it is fatuous to pretend that Islam is no more likely than Buddhism, Christianity or Judaism to produce mass killers. When a Christian says "Praise God," people nod politely or in agreement. When a Muslim shouts "Allahu Akbar," everybody ducks.
If a Christian or a Jew suddenly becomes more devout, there is very little chance that he or she will become violent. Quite the contrary. By contrast, religious zeal among Muslims is often expressed with bombs and the blood of innocents. Thousands of imams worldwide preach violent jihad, Islamic schools instill contempt for other faiths, and terrorists actively recruit killers willing to commit massacres for Allah.
Yet Attorney General Eric Holder cannot bring himself to say, under questioning before Congress, that terrorists might be motivated by "radical Islam." The State Department and the Department of Homeland Security banned the words "jihad" and "mujahadeen" from official statements about terrorism. And the president removed the term "Islamic extremism" from the National Security Strategy.
Why is it so hard to tell the truth? The truth is that while the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and law-abiding, there is a powerful strain within the religion that encourages murder and mayhem. Muslims, sooner or later, must deal with this, along with the rest of the world. But to suggest that acknowledging Muslim extremism amounts to bigotry, as this administration seems to, is both dishonest and cowardly.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.