Monday, 30 September 2019

Soft bigotry?

Former US presidential speechwriter Michael Gerson had George W Bush say, in a speech to the Latino Business Association in Los Angeles: “Now some say it is unfair to hold disadvantaged children to rigorous standards. I say it is discrimination to require anything less - the soft bigotry of low expectations.” The phrase has since come into common usage both to plead for a higher standard of equal treatment and to excuse a certain apathy to help such disadvantaged groups. Like all political conveniences it is a double-edged weapon.

For instance, the standard of public behaviour of the rabble-rousing Labour firebrands is peppered with inflammatory phrases. From John McDonnell’s lynching comments right through to their regular unsubstantiated accusations that the Tories alone are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths through ‘austerity’, Labour’s lexicon is that of revolution. And why not, of course it is; Labour was founded in struggle even though now its biggest struggle is convincing itself it still has relevance.

So maybe this is the reason why Jess Phillips’ regular ejaculation of ‘fuck off’ to other MPs, to tweeters and to anybody who irks her passes almost without comment. Actually, that is unfair, because over the weekend, social media has gone to town, yet Jess remains unrebuked and unrepentant. Fair enough then, we say, we didn’t expect otherwise. But should we let them get away with it just because we don’t expect any better? I say no, let us hold parliamentarians of all sides to the same standards, otherwise what’s the point?

Is Boris’s use of the word humbug really on a par with the accusations levelled at him on a daily basis? And if you believe it is, what is wrong with you? Did you struggle with comprehension at school, or are you challenged by context? Because if it is the first then we have a massive problem in basic education. Some say we should teach critical thinking in schools (although these are almost exclusively calls from the left, with partisan intent) but surely we should just rigorously teach the actual language.

How can people tell fact from fiction if they can read and understand neither? How can one discern vernacular from literal intent without an upbringing steeped in both? And without the ability to read and listen and sift the gleaming nuggets of truth from the dry dust of rhetoric how can anybody make a judgment on which basis to cast a vote? Is it any wonder then that so many are now saying they may never vote again; what would be the point?

Perhaps this is the low expectation that MPs depend upon from the electorate? If they can dissuade all but the lumpen masses of the proletariat from seeking change and then sell an utter lack of change as a profound new direction, maybe they can persuade the herd that what they end up with is what they voted for. Does this remind anybody of the Brexit promise? ‘The government will implement what you decide’? Unless, of course you decide wrongly, in which case we will assume you are too stupid to know it when we change what you decided.

Official government policy?

For many decades and certainly during the age of mass communication, the expectations of the competence of successive governments has been slipping lower and lower. But the shift from a basic mistrust of those in high office to where we are now – an automatic assumption that they will act in their own self-interest first – is seismic. Up until now when we held low expectations of our government at least we expected them to live up to them. Now even that low bar seems to be beyond their reach.

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