Friday, November 07, 2008

Ca me fait egal

What, are we still awaiting Aaro’s views on Obama? I think that this is a clear sign of our lad's onward and upward progress - no longer the sort of mid-level opinion hack who is called upon to write 400wds of pithy reaction to issues of the day, and neither the sort of mid-level opinion hack who needs the money when offered them, Aaro is a columnist, occupant of the Simon Jenkins slot in the Times and who knows? Possibly aspirant to the knighthood that goes with the post. So anyway, a few words on his last column.

I don't want to be too snotty about this, because it genuinely is good to see people writing in the newspapers who bother to get their hands dirty with yer actual social science, and Aaro and Polly Toynbee are more or less the only mainstream columnists who do it. But ... the name of this blog is Aaronovitch Watch, and one of the main themes of this blog is that it's when he's at his most reasonable that you have to Watch Aaro most closely, because he tends to slip in the propaganda quite subtly. So that you're so overwhelmed with the nutrious abundance of stone-ground crusty bread, that you don't realise he's feeding you a shit sandwich.

I also have to provide a little bit of context for that Galbraith quote, because I am a Galbraith nerd and it's quite funny. "It requires no courage nor prescience to predict disaster. Courage is required of the man who, when things are good, says so" appears in The Great Crash of 1929. It's by way of a qualified defence of Calvin Coolidge for making an optimistic speech about how well things were going in 1928. So although it was courageous of Silent Cal to say that things were good, it wasn't exactly very prescient. More importantly, the very next paragraph of GC29 is, in fact, about inequality, the subject of Aaro's col.

There was much that was good about the world of which Coolidge spoke. True, as liberal misanthropes have insisted, the rich were getting richer much faster than the poor were getting less poor. The farmers were unhappy and had been ever since the depression of 1920-21 had cut farm prices sharply but left costs high. Black people in the South and white people in the southern Appalachians continued to dwell in hopeless poverty. Fine old-English houses with high gables, leaded glass and well-simulated half-timbering were rising in the country club district, while farther in town one encountered the most noisome slums outside the Orient


So in context, I don't think that the quote can quite be used to recruit JKG to the general cause of "give our boys in power a break, you people ought to be more appreciative of all that's done for you"; quite apart from anything, trying to recruit one of the last century's most stylish satirists to the cause of ant-cynicism is a bit quixotic.

And of course, that's the bit of the sandwich here that I'm sending back to the kitchen; the cause is once more, give 'em the benefit of the doubt. Any microscopic achievement is hailed to the skies; the benchmark is lowered to meet it. At some points, Aaro appears to be perilously close to arguing that the only possible way to affect inequality is through pre-primary education - once someone's taken their GCSEs, let alone entered the workforce, their social station is set for life and there's certainly nothing that the government could do about it. The idea that the quantitative size and economic importance of the differences between categories might also be a legitimate object of policy is in the "does not compute" bucket; "fairness" here means "social mobility" - a phrase that repays close reading, and particular comparison to the phrase "economic equality", and the fact that Aaro chooses to unpack the loaded word "fairness" one way rather than the other gives a very big clue that he is actually much less sympathetic to egalitarian politics than one would think if one wasn't paying attention.

Aaro does have a point, by the way, about the specific individual Jade Goody. As well as the point he makes, it has to be pointed out that by any reasonable standard, Ms Goody has to be considered a success story for the education system. Before appearing on Big Brother, she held down a job as a dental nurse (which is a skilled occupation) and doesn't appear to have spent any material period in unemployment. Since making her appearance on BB, she's continued to earn a decent upper-middle-class income out of promoting perfume and making media appearances. This is despite having a quite obviously dysfunctional family background. She's fat and quite vulgar in her speech, but this isn't something that either the school system or people who aren't snobs ought to be concerned about; I don't think that the school system can be especially blamed for the fact that she made racist comments in public. But that's by the by.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes very good, except on one point. I don't think Jade Goody is actually "fat" except by some wierd media standard - or indeed double standard applying only to women, if you compare her to Mr A.

11/07/2008 08:34:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I agree with anonymous - I don't think Jade Goody is fat; and I don't think it would matter if she were. She's a fairly repellent person - a bully and an egotist - but she's undoubtedly a success story in economic terms. I agree with the rest of the post; when I read the piece I thought that it was very much 'give them benefit of the doubt because I have decreed that the existing stats aren't all that useful'.

11/07/2008 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

She's a fairly repellent person - a bully and an egotist - but she's undoubtedly a success story in economic terms.

Quite a lot of success stories fit that description. It's perhaps a reason why our culture is as it is.

11/07/2008 09:24:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I've come across this a bit late, but it may merit attention

11/09/2008 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

The common perception of Ms Goody's lack of education comes from this.

11/10/2008 06:26:00 AM  

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