Wednesday 31 May 2017

Back to a very dark age

So much progress was made in the last century. Huge leaps in technology, great advances in equality, despite what many believe, education and health care for great swathes of the population. We put men on the moon, connected the world’s peoples with voice, video and written word, put eons of knowledge in the public domain and put computers that would have dwarfed NASA in the pockets of the same people that would have been bought and sold in the 1800s. So what’s gone wrong. We are on the cusp (and I’m being charitable here) of going full circle. Let me explain.
I will take my native Britain as case study but I also hope to explain why Trump happened, why BREXIT happened and why I believe we are in danger of finding ourselves back in an 18th century with touch-screens.
Looks like a call centre, doesn't it?
Around the end of the 18th century many worked in agriculture on tied farms owned by the lords and landowners. They paid to live in a little cottage and work the land to keep their family alive. There was no time for leisure and even less for culture. This was the domain of the aristocracy. They filled their days with lofty conversation, art and literature. Some made great advances in science and exploration due to their brilliance and wealth but mostly due to their wealth. Then came the industrial revolution which invented the middle classes, smart, driven men who took the dispossessed and orphans to work in their factories. They had no rights and were expected to work hard and show gratitude. Education was a luxury and so all doors were closed to betterment. They were all governed by the aristocracy who had the education and hubris to assume their rightful position at the helm of the nation. Some of the new middle classes aspired to these positions as they realised it was leverage to more profitable business.
The workers had no such aspirations and even believed that they had no right to even consider such positions. The upper classes were the men for the job, no questions. They could not envisage people like themselves having the qualifications necessary to make decisions on such a scale. Here we will see the beginning of the loop, be patient.
So after nearly a hundred years of industrialisation work had become a little more technical and there was a need to educate the masses to deal with the advances in technology. It was The elementary education act of 1870 that allowed local governments to set up schools for the less privileged. They were still fee paying schools but they were a little more accessible than private schools and more numerous. More kids were learning the 3Rs (Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic, maybe in itself an indication of literacy levels in those days) than ever before. In 1902 secondary schools were given the same treatment and just after the Great War in 1918 fees for elementary schools were abolished. This was also the year that some women got the vote.
The Liberals (Back when this wasn’t a bad word) pushed for universal free healthcare under Herbert Asquith and David Lloyd George. The masses were learning but still grateful. The British labour party had taken over as the main opposition but many would not vote for them as they were seen as not as qualified for such positions as the ruling classes. People still felt that those in the upper echelons were there for good reason and Joe Blow would never have the wherewithal to handle such responsibility, after all they were just like the blokes they spent their time with down the pub. Some may have been great orators and even pretty smart but they still got pissed and tried to shag the barmaid!
After WWII the Beveridge report introduced the welfare state, the NHS, the largest employer in Europe. John Maynard Keynes found the money and the war on the 5 evils of society (squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease) was declared. People were put to work, educated to better themselves and their health and retirement was taken care of. Without the pressures of survival, people made huge bounds in progress and it is because of that era that we are where we are now. Microprocessors, the INTERNET, telecommunications, science, not to mention the arts would still be in the dark ages if these initiatives had failed. You can forget The Beatles and the Stones (Maybe even Radiohead… Gasp!).
Now, by the 70s things had gotten a bit strained and sectors of society that had always existed started to proliferate, those who were OK to kick back and let others take the strain and those who could make a buck from the toil of others. Neither the prior nor the latter were anything new but the prior were aided and abetted by the welfare state and the latter were waiting for the right conditions and they didn’t have to wait long. Productivity had fallen and the only way to keep the economy liquid was to allow people to spend the money they hadn’t earned yet. Credit was a way to give people spending power without upping their wages while giving bankers a way to make money that, they hoped, would trickle down to the masses. And, it did but not for long.
So now you have a people who had smelt the honey and they wanted more. You have the bankers who had enjoyed real power and they liked it. And you have a system that cannot support either.
The age we live in is characterised by technology but also by celebrity. Education allowed many to fast-track themselves and their kids to positions. Many of the Indians who fled Kenya in 1968 put their kids through medical school while working all hours in their own convenience stores. Many of the natives dreamed of getting on the telly or becoming rock stars, I know I did!
You see, the line, for most, between multimillionaire celebrity and themselves is comprehensible. Everyone can see the boy/girl next door in the people who compare game-shows or sing their favourite song. But, to run an international company or even country is tough and as education works so hard to rationalise their ambitions. Celebrity is far more attainable. The west has a huge deficit in skills production. With the exception of Germany, the US and UK have year on year chipped away at their education systems and health systems with the result of kicking people into survival mode. This results in people closing their circle of aspiration while still maintaining a level of desire for stuff and thus spending ahead of their years, keeping them focused on the job at hand.
Then along comes someone like Trump. He has built a multi-million international empire but still wants to shag the barmaid. He talks in the same simplistic terms as their buddies down at the bar but he has realised their dreams. He is the man for the job. He may be stupid but he is the kind of stupid they can relate to. The product of the education system. He is the perfect amalgam of celebrity and aristocracy, he even had a TV show.
But he will fail. He will be brought down by the incumbent aristocracy, in league with the academics and social media. He will be shown to be incompetent and his brand of bar-room politics to be unworthy. Not that it isn’t but the message is clear. Don’t get above your station. At the moment Britain is coming up for a general election where the winner is clear. Teresa May and the Tories, the same who had their power slip at the beginning of the 1900s, the same who wish those days to return, the same who feel a righteous purpose to privatise a system that tried to deal with the 5 evils of society, the same who will need to rely on imports of educated people to support innovative business or risk it going to the producers of educated people. And the only way they will be able to keep them will be to direct cash away from those services to reducing their tax and wages bills. We will be back in the industrial revolution and we will have come full circle.
The people will no longer feel adequate to aspire to anything more than surviving the week. Anyone like Jeremy Corbyn will be seen as a hapless student union dreamer despite having their needs at heart. And, those who say that in order to float the economy we need to run some teachers, doctors and nurses into the ground will seem most credible. But, education and health care is where this all began, it is what got us here. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a cycle that will come back round. The next phase will putting up fences that prevent it ever happening again.

You have been warned…

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