Monday, 13 December 2010

London burning


London burns and so do your shabby dreams
behold you future executioners!


This, believe it or not, - and believe it you must - is a recent comment posted on an article I wrote earlier this year, welcoming the advent of David Cameron as Prime Minister (But to be young was very heaven). I dislike censorship and I will publish all reasonable comments, even when I deeply disagree with them, just so long as they are not rants or propaganda, and just so long as they are not naked personal attacks on me or another blogger.

I suppose this ungrammatical contribution comes under the heading of a rant, and therefore my decision not to publish could be justified in such terms. However, there is another reason here. Generally speaking I like to debate with all those who offer comments, where debate is necessary. How on earth is one to enter into any constructive exchange with an individual quite as stupid as this? It goes beyond stupidity, though: his words betray a seething resentment and a deep sense of personal inadequacy, a combination, I suppose, of orc and morlock, a subterranean kind of creature. I’m not going to mention who the blogger is but I have visited the site in question and the ungrammatical ignorance there reaches depths you might find difficult to imagine. No, you may not, because you are probably too well aware that standards of literacy in this country have been in decline for some time past.

But I am grateful to this oik, let me just call him Fire Bug, Bug for short, whom I take to be typical of the ‘students’ who attacked the car of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall recently, shouting ‘Tory Scum’ in the process. When it comes to scum the Bugs of this world have the most intimate kind of knowledge.

My ‘shabby dreams’, the dreams of a future executioner ( a role I might relish!), what are they, I wonder? Oh, yes, a world where low class types like Bug know their place, which in the great scheme of things is doubtless cleaning some public lavatory in Scunthorpe. We could, I suppose, bring back the workhouse, a brilliant Victorian innovation, a real alternative to university for Bug.

His words, posted after the student demonstration against the increase in tuition fees, indicate he was ‘out’ last Thursday, ensuring that London was burning, ensuring that the cenotaph was attacked, that police horses were attacked, a chance for a spot of mindless mayhem. Really, that’s what it’s all about, mindless mayhem, not fees, not higher education, just chaos for the sake of chaos, destruction for the sake of destruction.

One of Bug’s companions that day was a certain Charlie Gilmour, son of the Pink Floyd guitarist and, I’m ashamed to say, a history student at Girton College, Cambridge, who swung on the flag at the Cenotaph. Fees are not an issue for him because his father is rich enough (perhaps Girton’s admissions policy should come under closer scrutiny?) No, it was just an adrenalin rush, trouble for the sake of trouble. He’s since issued a grovelling (all the press reports emphasise that word) apology, saying he did not know what the Cenotaph was. This comes, remember, from a history student at the best university in England (perhaps the content of Girton’s courses should come under closer scrutiny?) Unfortunately he can’t be sent down, as he deserves to be sent down, because his flag swinging act took place outwith the university term. “We don’t need no education”, Gilmour senior and his band sang self-refutingly. Pass the message on to Gilmour junior: you should get no education.

I absolutely support the increase in fees, the only way to ensure that we retain a world-class tertiary education sector in these financially straightened times. The thing is, apart from desecrating the cenotaph and attacking the royal car, most of mob who poured on to the streets of London have not got the first clue what they are protesting about, including Cenotaph Gilmour.

I read a comment in the press from someone who picked up one of the protestors’ leaflets. Apparently it does not even mention the issues at stake, just a lot of wishy-washy nonsense about an attack on ‘working class kids’. It might be best if these ‘working class kids’ turned their thoughts to more realistic ends, rather than clogging up the higher education sector with low class courses in fourth rate ‘universities’.

The issue, if you are at all interested, is really quite simple, though clearly too complex for most of the revolting students. What exactly is it they want? Unfairness, that’s what, a transfer of tax revenues to subsidise them at the cost of the general community. The system we have at the moment is simply unsustainable. The last government with its usual hocus pocus politics expanded the number entering higher education without expanding resources. The gap between what students pay and what their teaching actually costs has grown at an alarming rate. Government can no longer make up the shortfall, so higher fees offer the best way of bridging the chasm. In other words, those who actually benefit from university education should be made to pay for this education – in common with a great many students across the planet – rather than the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, or those ‘working class kids’ who have no interest at all in university.

We really have lost our way when higher education is seen as a right, not a privilege best suited to the best qualified, a right for the semi-literate Bugs of this world. I’m going to let Somerset Maugham have the last word here;

I am told that today rather more than 60 per cent of the men who go to university go on a Government grant. This is a new class that has entered upon the scene. It is the white-collar proletariat. They do not go to university to acquire culture but to get a job, and when they have got one, scamp it. They have no manners and are woefully unable to deal with any social predicament. Their idea of a celebration is to go to a public house and drink six beers. They are mean, malicious and envious. They are scum.

54 comments:

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  4. Thanks, Adam. Gilmour and Fire Bug are two of a kind, stupid and irrelevant.

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  8. Anna, We are taking bets on students or "rent a mobs", roiting over here, just as soon as the republicans take over the House of Representatives in January.

    If they do, they may get a little rougher treatment than their counterparts in London.

    Also, I have tried my hand at blogging see:
    http://cheech-thenightwesawfanniefoxx.blogspot.com/

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  9. Education is far too important to be entrusted to political influence. Most people are utterly oblivious to how important. Generations have doomed themselves to its influence without ever questioning the cost to their liberty.

    Labour has tried to use the system as a procrustean tool to level society and to buy eternal support from a large cohort of rather stupid people. Conservatives have been ambivalent about its uses, at times seeing it as a means of inculcating 'traditional values' in the lower orders, and at other times as a utility to elevate the brighter working classes to the middle classes to serve the state. But the essential political aspect is the very existence of a system.

    Life teaches - school or no school. An education system is a means of limiting, controlling, and channeling the ideas young minds are exposed to. A system is a factory for imposing uniformity. One could argue that tertiary education is a final attempt to constrain the thinking of the most recalcitrant of independent imaginations lest they somehow spark ideas that corrupt others. A free imagination can be very dangerous to those who benefit from the established order.

    Scholarly minds are very rare - and dangerous. They have no boundaries, no limits. We can easily house an entire generation's worth in a couple of small colleges. The rest of the tertiary system has grown up as a utilitarian machine to stamp out uniform drones to work as healers, bureaucrats, accountants, and technocrats - doing the 'useful' work of society without thinking too deeply why, and without questioning the 'natural' order.

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  10. Dearest Ana

    It was a pleasure to read this article!

    I am old enough to have read that letter by the late Somerset Maugham at the time it was printed in the Sunday Times.

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  11. There's a big difference between being willing to work to get somewhere, and to demand someone give it to you. This said, I didn't go to college to acquire culture or a job, I went originally to become a US Marine Corps officer, and then when that fell through due to a back injury, I stayed to learn mathematics and the intricacies of understanding most fundamental.

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  12. Nature is remarkable, the beetle in the picture looks like an African mask. Most people in America go to college in hope of getting a job as most eventually have to support themselves or a family. Young people go through periods of rebellious behavior but if the current trend towards socialism and subsidized immigration is not reversed the above mentioned comment may become a reality. Be wary of "scum" as it has a tendancy to rise to the top. The film "the white countess" was about the fate of some of the Russian aristocracy who fled the Bolshevik revolution. You can come to America but eventually you will have to learn the language.

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  13. @MGON: The son is a reflection of the values instilled by the parents.

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  17. From the Wild One (1953)
    Mildred (Peggy Maley)"What're you rebelling against, Johnny?"
    Johnny (Marlon Brando)"Whaddya got?"

    Scum always floats on top of the pond..

    Bob Mack

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  18. Adam, I don't really have any thoughts at all about Pink Floyd and I certainly don't blame the father for the actions of the son, other than to think that his upbringing was, perhaps, not all it should have been.

    As for university funding there is no attempt at all to stir up 'class hatred', certainly not on my part. It is, however, manifestly unfair that higher education should be funded from general taxation when not all have access to higher education. I would refer you here to a very good piece by Jonathan Bate in the latest issue of Prospect (The costly new idea of a university). I do not for a moment accept that means testing is the road to a fascist state. Means testing has long been a feature of sectors of the English education system, through bursaries, scholarships and the like. In Utopia education is free. We do not live in Utopia. I am prepared to pay the price of a good education precisely because I know the value of a good education. I want my money to go directly to the college. I want nothing from the state; I ask nothing from the state. We need plumbers but plumbers do not need degrees. I think it deeply wrong that they should pay for me or anyone else to take that course.

    The reality of Macmillan's Britain was that only 5% of the general population went to university. Now 45% of school leavers are seeking university places. The reality of Macmillan's Britain was that the cost -and the unfairness -could be absorbed into general taxation. This is no longer the case. The money is simply not there, or it is but only if expenditure is savagely cut on general services, the sort of services the plumber uses, from roads to hospitals.

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  19. Cheech, the best of luck! Hey, it's great to see you dipping your toes in the water. :-)

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  20. Calvin, your observation about the 'utilitarian machine' goes straight to the heart of what is wrong with so much of the tertiary education system here. Quite frankly, much of it is rubbish.

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  21. Dearest David, thank you. :-) My grandfather, you might be interested to learn, knew Maugham. They attended cocktail parties and other functions together in London and Paris. I really wish I had met him myself. I would have had so much to say, so much to ask!

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  22. Jeremy, the higher education system in the States seems to me to be so much better organised than it is here, with little in the way of institutional snobbery. From community colleges through to the Ivy League universities, the whole sector seems to be dedicated to meeting the needs of students and the wider community, fostering their own particular kind of excellence. I hope my view is a realistic one.

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  25. Anthony, I've been speaking the language for years. I even know the difference between a biscuit and a biscuit, a cookie and a biscuit, a trunk and a boot, a lift and an elevator and a lift and a ride. I could go on. I can even manage a decent rural Georgian twang. :-))

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  26. Bob, yes, I know the line. Marlon Brando looks so yummy in that movie. :-)

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  28. Morning, Ana. I don't disagree with your blog, but the Maugham quote shows him in a very poor light in my opinion.

    When I Googled it, this post was the fourth return out of 33,500.

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  30. Adam, you are living in a dream world. Here is where we are. One Nation Toryism is as antique as Young England. It was antique even before the outbreak of the First World War. Its last gasp, its nadir, was the premiership of Ted Heath. I'm glad your voice will be heard. Nobody, not even the 'vile' BBC, would wish to repress it. :-)

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  31. Morning, Brendano. The Maugham quote should really be seen in the context of the times. I used it here with a particular target, and purpose, in mind. :-)

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  33. I'm slightly bemused by that Maugham quote (which I don't *quite* agree with, or at least with the emphasis of: my experience suggests that the utilitarian "user" of education who cares little for acquiring culture or knowledge is far from being confined to one particular social origin or strata of wealth), for one reason: as I found when I worked as teacher of English in post-Soviet Ukraine, he was one of the most frequently cited (and read) authors in the English curriculum in Soviet high schools. While certainly in reality the USSR was highly elitist, it also did tend to not go for such open denuncation of members of its Chosen Class, attacking them as a group. (Still, this was certainly not the only facet of his character that was hushed up in his official Soviet portrayal)

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  34. What, one might ask, is the purpose of mass tertiary education, other than to keep the yobs off the streets?
    :-)

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  35. Adam, yes, he was, as you will discover if you ever read his biography. Politically he represented the last puff of the exhausted Macmillan volcano; attempting to do endless deals with trade unionists and completing the European journey began by his mentor. It was Margaret Thatcher who broke with this tired and useless tradition. She most assuredly did not fail; she just did not go far enough.

    The BBC is a corporation. It does not ‘hate’ you or anyone else.

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  36. Dominic, he was probably in a rotten mood that day. :-)

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  37. CI, clearly it's not working. I just wish they would stay away from Cambridge. :-)

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  42. Hello Ana,

    I just discovered your blog, and have found your posts this week fascinating. I'm surprised to see you, as a proud daughter of the Confederacy, emphasizing seething resentment in the rebellion of others, as that's what raised the Bonnie Blue Flag, our North's encroachment on your ways of life. Personally I think resentment is at the root of all our causes. Only true artists appear to be absent of it, and watch out for them.

    As for the Bonnie Blue Flag. I'm a proud, filthy Yankee from Boston (apologies to all you Englishmen reading this for having booted you out of our charming, parochial town), but had I been alive back then and that song was playing, no matter the cause I would've rallied behind it, as I think that's one of the greatest songs ever written. It's great to see you posting it. I keep coming back to it on YouTube every time I dip into Shelby Foote.

    This is probably not the place to ask, as I'm completely off subject here, but have you ever read Sarah Morgan's Civil War diaries? She was a genius, pure and simple. I don't know why her diaries aren't considered a classic of American literature. I have a feeling you'd love them, if you haven't already come across them yet.

    This is a great blog.

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  43. Hi, Stephen and a very warm welcome, my Yankee cousin! As always one has to make judgements. Some rebels I can admire; others I despise. I have not read those diaries but I will, now you have put them on my radar. Thank you for your positive comments. You and I can have tea together any time you wish. :-)

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  44. Adam, what am I suppose to say, other than I disagree? I'm not going round in endless circles, nor am I in the practice of running at red rags. To describe Baroness Thatcher as a 'monster' and an 'abomination' is just silly and pointless. It serves absolutely no constructive purpose.

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  46. The artist, the scientist, the explorer . . . live on the very edge of the world, where new horizons are theirs for the mere effort of stepping into them. They have no rivals except for mundane things that do not matter. It is a glorious freedom: who could want more?

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  47. Adam, your argument is wrong and wildly unbalanced. That is my last word.

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  48. Calvin, you set me dreaming! The artist and the explorer, these are my avatars. There is no greater joy than the joy of freedom, no greater glory.

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  50. Ana, I was thinking the same thing. Maugham must've been feeling very peevish that day. Well, people are people. The ones who think they're "better" are usually the worst of the lot.

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  51. Hello Ana,

    Regarding the riots, I was wondering what you think about it. I see you criticize the way its done, but I couldn't see much about the "rights" and the roots of the problem or an analysis of it.
    And the quote from Maugham is .....disturbing. ;)

    I wish you a Merry Christmas and a very happy new year in advance in case I can't have the opportunity.

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  52. Levent, I think the riots were a complete disgrace and the people behind them the worst kind of thugs. That's the thing you: all people like you, people looking from abraod, will see is all of the violence and none of the supposed justice.

    Thank you for your Christmas wishes. I hope you have happy New Year also. Bayramınız mübarek olsun. :-)

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