Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Ignorocracy

I'd been planning to write this post in a couple of days time, but this post by Phil, led me to do it now. Phil asks, in his post “What are we to make of Donald Trump?”, but as I posted in a comment to him, the real question is “what are we to make of the tens of millions of people who voted him into office, or those who similarly voted Boris Johnson into office as London Mayor, or who, voted through Brexit?”

Again, as I said in my comment to Phil, it reminds me of the 2005 film “Idiocracy”. But, the truly idiotic thing, is not that there is an actual majority of people in society that have this level of idiocy or ignorance, there isn't, they are only a minority. No the truly idiotic thing is that the politics of society has become so degraded over the last thirty years, that, in order to go in search of an electoral coalition, large enough to be able to win an election, the political parties themselves have put themselves in a position where they, at worst, tail this ignorant minority, and, at best, pander to it, rather than confronting it head on. So, instead of coming out openly to oppose Brexit, Labour says that we have to “respect” the reactionary decision that was made by a tiny majority, in a rigged ballot, largely on the back of the votes of this ignorant and bigoted minority – remember even on the basis of a rigged ballot that denied a vote to 16 and 17 year olds, and denied a vote to EU citizens living in Britain, and British citizens who have lived elsewhere in the EU for more than fifteen years, the actual percentage of the electorate voting for Brexit was only 37%.

And now, Labour politicians even shy away from describing those who voted for Brexit as ignorant. Of course, some of those who voted for Brexit are not ignorant. Fascists and ultra nationalists have always been calculating in the way they use ignorance and bigotry to build a movement behind them to achieve their aims. Nor were a majority of those who voted for Brexit hard core racists, but the fundamental basis on which the Brexit decision was made – xenophobia, and hostility to immigration at all costs, and irrespective of any facts – was racist. Someone who has consumed too much alcohol, is drunk, but that does not make them a drunk, implying that it is a regular feature of their behaviour. People can hold an opinion, such as opposition to immigration, that is racist without themselves being racist. It doesn't change the objective reality of the opinion, just because the person holding it does not intend to be racist.

But, politicians refusing to come out and call a spade a spade, by saying that this decision was racist, that the motivations behind it were racist, and that millions of people that voted for it, did so on the basis of bigotry and ignorance, does nothing to challenge that bigotry and ignorance. It merely panders to it, and makes it acceptable. Trotsky said that the first responsibility of a socialist was to tell the truth to the working-class, even if that truth was unpleasant. The truth is that around 30% of the population hold views that are ignorant and bigoted, and should be challenged as such. If socialists and the Labour Party do not do that, for fear of upsetting some of that 30%, they are not doing their job. Moreover, by failing to challenge those views for the ignorant and bigoted views they are, what does that say to the other 70% of the population, a large portion of whom come from our youth, and the society of tomorrow, the validity of whose opinions are reduced to the same rock bottom level?

Bourgeois democracy is based on the idea that the majority should not bother themselves with politics, other than voting every few years for some group of professional politicians who will make the decisions that control their lives. Its not surprising, therefore, that a large portion of the population can be largely ignorant of political issues. The Chartists demanded annual elections, whereas today, the sentiment presented by the bourgeois media, in a country that claims to be the home of democracy is more accurately represented by the repeated showing of the video clip of Brenda from Bristol proclaiming, “What another one, its just getting too much!”, when told that there was going to be another election.

But, its not just in the realm of “real politics” as opposed to the politics of everyday life that controls people's lives that this ignorance abounds. Take the recent media coverage of the fact that millions of people were sold houses on leasehold rather than freehold, and who found, therefore, that the house they thought they owned, they only had a long lease over. Why did none of them know the difference between leasehold and freehold? I was only 23 when I bought my first house, but I certainly understood the difference, and its the first thing you look at in estate agents' adverts for properties for sale. The same is true in relation to houses built in flood plains etc. No doubt some people did due diligence on these things, and asked the relevant questions to their solicitors, in which case we can expect to see multibillion pound compensation claims against solicitors in the next few years, for conveyancing mis-selling, but my guess is that millions did not, and simply assumed that someone else would pick up the tab for their own mistakes, and lack of diligence.

And the fact is that there is absolutely no excuse for anyone in today's world not being aware of the facts. The Internet may be full of trolls and fake news, but there are also plenty of legitimate resources available to be able to gain the basic knowledge required to consider situations rationally. For example, go to wiki and search for leasehold, and you get the following extensive and easily accessible information – Leasehold-estate.

Given that the majority of the population spend several hours a week on the Internet, and that, walk down any high street, sit in any doctor's or hospital waiting room, and you will see lots of people with their eyes fixed rigidly to their smart phone screen, it's not as though people do not know how to use this resource to obtain information, or have the time to do so. Yet, how many times do you hear people say in elections “Oh I don't really know all the facts”, or “I haven't really had enough information”!

The real explanation is that a significant minority of people do not want to be bothered to find out the information, whether it is about “real politics”, or the politics of everyday life, such as the difference between leasehold and freehold, and so on, because they expect someone else to pick up the pieces. And, largely, that is not their fault. It is the way society has conditioned them to act. It has conditioned them into the idea that one opinion is as good as another, whether it is based on any factual evidence or not, and that if you make a mistake, don't worry, someone else will pick up the bill for it. In fact, if that were not the case, the multiplicity of daytime TV adverts for compensation claims lawyers would fall on deaf ears.

Just look at the way, Gove and others, during the EU referendum campaign came out to argue that people had had enough of "experts", as though that was a good thing, rather than a sign of the extent of deterioration of the intellectual degeneration of society.  It was not a matter of people having enough of experts on the basis of an intelligent discussion of the facts, and contending rational arguments, but of resiling from any consideration of the facts altogether in favour of untrammelled bigotry and ignorance!

What is more, a large minority of the population not only do not want to be bothered to check out the facts, but are actually hostile to having the facts pointed out to them, because it challenges their prejudices. In the US, 42% of US citizens believed that God created the world in seven days, and that it is less than 10,000 years old, according to a 2014 Gallup Poll. That was actually down from 46% in 2012. That means that in the world's most technologically developed society, which has decoded the human genome, and sent men to the Moon, around 100 million people reject all of the abundant facts, and obvious evidence, and instead believe the most preposterous nonsense about their own origins. Is it any wonder that Donald Trump could be elected President?

Now you might think that this is just the country yokels in the US Midwest, and that sensible Britons would be immune to such nonsense. Wrong, a 2015 survey marking the 150th anniversary of “The Origin of Species” found that 50% of British people were either strongly opposed or confused about Darwin's theory. Only 25% said that the theory was definitely true, whilst another 25% said that it was probably true. Around 25% backed either the Young Creationist nonsense about the Earth being less than 10,000 years old (10%), or else backed Intelligent Design, or a mixture of such non-fact based ideas.

But, hey, if we adopt the Labour position in relation to the Brexit vote, why shouldn't Labour also “respect” these views, and make these fruitcake creationist ideas as valid as Darwin's Theory. Perhaps the next Labour government should “respect” that ignorance too, and put New Creationism on the school curriculum as a valid opinion. Ignorocracy here we come!

15 comments:

George Carty said...

In the UK and US anti-intellectualism seems to be strongest among the people who were the bedrock of Brexit and Trump – older generations living in economically unviable small towns – and I suspect that its main driver is "the educated elites rob us of our children!"

As young people increasingly flee such towns for the opportunities which are increasingly found only in big cities, they leave behind a declining small-town population that is disproportionately old and sick and deprived of the family and social support they need to thrive.

One approach to the problem would be to attempt to reverse the concentration of employment opportunities in big cities. Shifting the tax base away from income and sales and onto land values would help this somewhat, but can anything be done to restore communities which grew up to exploit resources that are now exhausted or obsolete (such as pit villages in County Durham, or Lancashire mill towns which grew up to exploit local water power)? And aren't most jobs in services now (as primary and secondary industrial jobs are automated away) which means they need a minimum local population density to be viable?

The other approach would be to make it easier for families and perhaps even entire rural communities to move en bloc to big cities (perhaps by building lots more social housing there). This would be complicated by the fact that a lot of the older generation in particular are unwilling to move because they crave the peace and quiet that rural living offers.

What would your preferred approach be to tackle this problem?

Boffy said...

I think that your analysis is fairly accurate. The situation reminds me of what Marx says in Capital I about the plight of the hand-loom weavers, who could no longer compete against the power loom, but who continued to exist in a condition of abject poverty and misery, because they were enabled to continue to eke out an existence due to the provision of Poor Relief. It was the worst of both world's. On the one hand the hand-loom weavers experienced severe deprivation and degradation, whilst their continuation in that condition was facilitated by a Poor Relief that was paid for out of the wages of other workers in the area. Its a bit like welfarism, and the payment of Housing Benefit today.

But, as Marx says, ultimately the introduction of machines, like the power-loom, causes living standards to rise, and also causes employment itself to rise, because it increases profits and facilitates the accumulation of more capital. The trouble is that those that initially lose their jobs are not suited to take up the new employment, and languish. Its their children (or at least the next generation) that benefit from this process.

My immediate solution would be to first stop pretending to people in those areas that a return to the old industries and jobs is possible. Coal mining and steel producing jobs in the UK and US are not going to return, not because of foreign competition primarily, but because the nature of the economy has changed, and the extent to which those commodities are required, they will be produced by robots and machines and not manual workers.

I would go about regenerating some of the more rural areas by ensuring that real high speed, i.e. at least 1gbps broadband is available. Lots of the younger generation could find high value, skilled work in media production, computer games production and so on, and with proper high speed broadband (with fast upload as well as download speeds) there is no reason why people employed in such jobs should not live anywhere in the country, working from home in a networked environment. In the US, there are actually already some small rural communities like that where no one goes out to work on a daily basis, because they all do such high value work from home.

Cont'd

Boffy said...

Cont'd

My preference would be to develop such communities on a co-operative basis. In fact, there is today the possibility to extend the principle that Marx discussed in relation to Russia in the 19th century of utilising its village commune systems, as the basis of Socialism. Some time ago, when I was a County Councillor, I drew up a series of proposals for my local community, as a regeneration plan, and basis of discussion for a regeneration forum I set up with various local organisations. One part of it was to develop sustainable new villages, where new housing development was occurring. It argued for such communities to be limited to around 250 houses, with breathing space around them, and for them to be clustered so as to provide access to other facilities such as hospitals and so on.

Part of that idea would be anathema to some who have experienced "gentrification", but the reality is that sustainable communities have to have the potential for creating the value required to pay for their upkeep, provision of facilities etc. We should be seeking to "gentrify" the working-class, by ensuring that we create the conditions in which such sustainable, co-operative communities are able to increasingly provide high value employment for everyone who lives within them, and to provide the kind of education and training etc. that is able to provide all of the citizens living with them with the ability to take up those jobs. Obviously, in such a community that does not just mean all IT etc jobs. The community will still need,bricklayers, plumbers, electricians and so on.

A co-operative community can enable the workers themselves within it to enjoy the benefits of the value they create, and to reinvest it within the community. I support the development of co-operative colleges and universities providing life long education and training, as with the Mondragon Co-operative University in Spain. But, the education and training should be geared towards the skills that the co-operative community itself requires.

Autumn Cote said...

Would it bec OK if I cross-posted this article to WriterBeat.com? There is no fee; I’m simply trying to add more content diversity for our community and I enjoyed reading your work. I’ll be sure to give you complete credit as the author. If “OK” please let me know via email.

Autumn
AutumnCote@WriterBeat.com

Boffy said...

Yes, it would be ok.

Boffy said...

It has been brought to my attention that you have an article on your blog that is an holocaust denial. So my permission is withdrawn.

George Carty said...

We should be seeking to "gentrify" the working-class, by ensuring that we create the conditions in which such sustainable, co-operative communities are able to increasingly provide high value employment for everyone who lives within them, and to provide the kind of education and training etc. that is able to provide all of the citizens living with them with the ability to take up those jobs.

What you say here reminds me of what the Strong Towns movement is saying in the United States. That movement also campaigns to some degree against the low-density sprawl development characteristic of much of America, not on the usual environmental grounds but on the basis that it is financially unsustainable.

Boffy said...

Except that I am actually quite in favour of low density housing, as opposed to high density. I think that the former Parker-Morris standards for housing ought to be at least a minimum, and that we should attempt to improve considerably upon them. Britain has the smallest properties in the whole of the EU by some margin, and after Brexit, the Tories will undoubtedly try to allow builders and developers to make that even worse. It is a crime that in Britain, twice as much land area is given over to golf courses (around 2%), as is actually used for residential property (about 1%). It continues to entrench the power and wealth of large landowners, and financiers, whilst creating the illusion, used by racists, that Britain is somehow "overcrowded". The continued power of those landowners and financiers is demonstrated by the continuation of laws to maintain that monopoly of land ownership, and to restrict competition, such as the ridiculous Green Belt that simply strangles existing urban areas.

We should not encourage those cities to sprawl further, but use rational planning of the vast areas of Green Belt, and underused agricultural land to develop sustainable, pleasant "new villages", and thereby create the conditions for the existing conurbations to be broken up. Instead of insisting on only first developing brownfield sites within conurbations, we should be insisting on brownfield sites being "greened", so as to provide a "green lung" within towns and cities, much as the Victorians developed the parks.

Back in the 1980's, when I was a Stoke City Councillor, I argued that instead of continuing to concentrate on the large reclamation projects the City was becoming famous for as it reclaimed pit and steel works slag heaps etc. it should focus on the thousands of small areas of land existing within feet of existing houses, which had arisen from programmes of slum clearance in the 1950's and 60's. It resulted in what the City Council called the "Greenstreet Project".

About, 20 years ago, when I was a County Councillor, and I first started putting forward the proposals I have set out in brief above in relation to housing etc., a very good, and long-time friend of mine, the late John Lockett, shocked me by saying, "We can't all live in Whitmore you know". Whitmore is an area of North Staffordshire where quite rich people, live, and is near where I actually live now. What shocked me was two things. Firstly, that he thought that we should continue to believe that we should accept a situation where rich people could enjoy living conditions and so on that we don't aspire for workers themselves to be able to enjoy. Surely, a basic element of socialism is that we want to raise workers living conditions and standards up to the highest level possible. The second thing was that there was an element in his argument, typical of many old Labour supporters that because Labour tends to win more votes on Council estates, more deprived areas, we should not be too hasty in raising the workers up who live in those areas, because to do so would be to lose ourselves future votes. I reject that view.

George Carty said...

There's low density and there's low density though!

London's population density is roughly 5000 people per square kilometre, while if it had no Green Belt it would probably be more like 3000 people per square kilometre: comparable in density to Los Angeles, or to many suburban areas in continental Europe.

The sprawl in red-state America is much less dense than this – more like 800 people per square kilometre (which is only twice the density of the whole of England!) – and while the Strong Towns movement itself ackowledges that low density can be viable if public services are minimal, or in a very expensive and exclusive area – it argues that the tax base in most such areas is insufficient to maintain the infrastructure.

Back to your original post, do you think the introduction of expensive tuition fees may also have fuelled anti-intellectualism, in the form of "sour grapes" resentment of those who couldn't afford to go to university (and/or were unwilling to take on large debts to do so)?

Boffy said...

I think L.A. and other cities in Europe are too high density. My argument is not to scrap the Green belt to facilitate further sprawl of existing towns and cities, but to facilitate environmentally friendly, sustainable, but pleasant environments in pockets within that Green Belt. I would like to see huge swathes of green carved in a cross hatching across London and other cities. In the Communist Manifesto it talked about doing away with the distinction between town and country, and that is the model I would like to see.

If sufficient resources were put into properly high speed broadband, and the fetish for the 19th/20th century model of factory/office based employment was ended, such small sustainable living communities become more than possible. I don't think that 800 people per square kilometre, in practice is particularly low density, as an average. As I said, in the whole of Britain, only 1% of the land mass is accounted for by residential dwellings. Its how you use the land, and how you spread out the developments.

I think the anti-intellectualism arose before the introduction of high tuition fees, but if anything, I'd say it was less during the time I went to University, and before, i.e. prior to the 1970's/80, when only 2% of the population in total had a degree. I think a lot of the division, as I have written before is actually an age split - though I reject and oppose wholeheartedly any attempt to divide the working-class on intergenerational bases. In part its because technological and other change is happening at a faster pace than probably ever in human history, and many people lack the tools to deal with the changing world that causes around them.

I have argued, before, that I think the model of higher education is not one that I would recommend. When my own kids were being pushed through the educational sausage machine, and being encouraged to go to University by school, I advised them against it - unsuccessfully. Having seen other young people who I worked with, do a similar thing to what I had done, of combining their education with employment, and then going through to be sent to do degrees, and MBA's by the employer, and at the employer's expense, while they continued to be paid their wages, and be a part of real life, I felt, and continue to feel that this model, as also recommended by Marx, is the one we should adopt.

George Carty said...

I think the anti-intellectualism arose before the introduction of high tuition fees, but if anything, I'd say it was less during the time I went to University, and before, i.e. prior to the 1970's/80, when only 2% of the population in total had a degree.

I never suggested that expensive tuition fees caused anti-intellectualism, but that doesn't mean they didn't intensify it to a degree sufficient to lead Brexit and Trump to electoral victory. It was noted that one of the strongest predictors of a vote for Trump was scepticism of the value of higher education, and expensive tuition fees would certainly fuel that!

I think a lot of the division, as I have written before is actually an age split - though I reject and oppose wholeheartedly any attempt to divide the working-class on intergenerational bases.

I wonder if two other reasons why there is a strong age split in contemporary British politics are:

a) many of today's 55-70 year olds will have first become interested in politics during the 1970s as the post-war progressive social-democratic consensus was breaking down. As a result they may have picked up a right-wing bias then, that they retained for the rest of their lives, and
b) today's pensioners are disproportionately Tories because Labour supporters of that age cohort are less likely to be still alive today, due to strenuous physical labour, dangerous working conditions, and/or unhealthy lifestyles.

Having seen other young people who I worked with, do a similar thing to what I had done, of combining their education with employment, and then going through to be sent to do degrees, and MBA's by the employer, and at the employer's expense, while they continued to be paid their wages, and be a part of real life, I felt, and continue to feel that this model, as also recommended by Marx, is the one we should adopt.

The English-speaking world seems to be very bad at vocational education compared to countries like Germany – why do you think this is. Is it because France, Germany and Japan all spent part of the industrial era under bonapartist regimes while the UK and US did not?

George Carty said...

If sufficient resources were put into properly high speed broadband, and the fetish for the 19th/20th century model of factory/office based employment was ended, such small sustainable living communities become more than possible.

So your proposed solution to the problem of wasteful energy usage and pollution from commuting by private motor vehicle (which is why environmentalists of all stripes advocate high-density cities to make walking, cycling and public transport more useful) is to replace physical commuting with telecommuting?

I don't see how that would work out, because telecommuting can only work for jobs that produce pure information rather than physical goods or services. Such jobs are unlikely to sustain many towns or cities because the infinite replicability of information goods means that the corresponding lines of work tend to have a very strong "winner takes all" character to them, much like journalism or professional sports.

Note how football (for example) became a lot more polarized once the potential audience for a football match increased from thousands of stadium spectators to millions of satellite TV viewers, with top-division players become able to command obscene salaries while the financial fortunes of lower-division clubs became more and more perilous.

We have millions of cars and thousands of bridges, but we will never have thousands of internet search engines. And while we do have vast numbers of smartphone apps, the proportion which actually generate a living wage for their authors (and which aren't merely adjuncts to businesses providing products or services in the physical world) is infinitesimally small. And software itself isn't immune to pressures for offshoring and automation – the 21st-century equivalent of Marx's hand-loom weavers may be self-employed individuals who design websites, who are finding it ever more difficult to make a living due to competition from low-cost (or free) automated tools for website design.

So the "Silicon Roundabout in every village" scenario which you paint sounds very far-fetched to me unfortunately.

Boffy said...

George,

The anti-intellectualism, generally, isn't a feature of the younger generation of people who might have suffered as a result of the introduction of tuition fees. Its a feature of a much older generation, who grew up at a time of learning by rote, acceptance of a set of given truths, and lack of critical assessment. The anti-intellectualism is not so much a matter of questioning the views of scientists etc. but of refusing to accept anything that appears to challenge an existing world view, and a willingness to follow along like sheep behind charismatic leaders, who play to those old prejudices, and certainties.

I suspect that the majority of those in the 55-70 year old bracket who did become interested in politics, and become active in the 1970's, are not amongst those who hold those ant-intellectualist views, or bigoted views. The cohort of people who hold those views, I suspect, are precisely the people who did NOT become interested in politics in the 1970's, despite everything that was going on at the time. I suspect they are people who even then studiously avoided concerning themselves with the wider world of that time, in order to concentrate on enclosing themselves in their own little bubble of "getting on", and who today find that although they have not been interested in politics and the world, the world and politics has been interested in them. They are people who have always said, "I'm not interested in politics, all politicians are the same, and there is no point voting etc." Now they find that, as a result, the world has changed around them, and they don't like it, but they have no tools to understand it.

In part, I think yes. Those other countries from the beginning industrialised with the state taking a larger role in directing the process of industrialisation. They focussed their attention and resources on that end, whereas Britain has always been the land where the old landed aristocracy continued to have a significant role, and was connected to the financial oligarchy, which also had a dominant role within the polity, and saw resources sucked into the realm of rents and interest payments rather than profits used for accumulation.
(Cont'd)

Boffy said...


Not particularly tele-commuting. A sustainable new village or cluster of villages, would be able to take advantage of local energy generation, via renewable energy sources and so on. Energy transmission across the grid loses 30% of the energy being transmitted. Those high density cities you talk about never have the people living in them require by the economy of the city itself. The land and property prices in the city rocket to levels that only the very rich can afford, and encourages speculation. The actual workers are pushed further and further outside its boundaries, so that the idea of walking, cycling etc. is a pipe dream. Instead you have 200 mile round trip commutes, on trains that have to be massively subsidised by workers elsewhere in the country, and you have HS" carving a swathe through the country, to ferry increasing numbers of workers from cheaper parts of the country into Gotham.

You are wrong about the possibility of people doing jobs from home, in the way I have described. 80% of the economy is service based, not the production of material goods. I'll give a separate example of this in a further comment below. Take clerical workers doing things like book-keeping, or council workers processing housing benefit, council tax, and so on. All of that work is done by a computer terminal which does not have to be situation in a Council office, or other business office. The relevant systems can be stored in the cloud, and workers log on to do their daily work quota from home.

We have an increasing number of creative workers, many of whom would not get access to an audience on the basis of the old monopolies,and old boys networks. Now via the Internet, they can advertise and distribute their services to a global audience. Moreover, in the new village model I have described, there would still be a requirement for people to do jobs such as building, plumbing etc, as well as cleaning, teaching and so on, just as in the village where I live, there are people who do those things now. Again I'll come back to this in the additional comment below.

If you take the "City", what do the vast majority of jobs entail. You say there are not enough jobs based on information to sustain the model I describe, but that is precisely the type of jobs that dominate. Little is actually made in London. The large majority of jobs, particularly those that are the highest value, are in finance, investment banking, insurance, accountancy, consultancy, and so on.

Boffy said...

Back in the 1980's, I had the potential for a job teaching in the Channel Islands. But, for me to take it up, my wife would have to have given up her existing job, we would have had to sell our house and bought a house in the Channel Islands. So, we decided against it. When Norman Tebbit told unemployed workers in Tyneside and elsewhere to "get on their bikes", the same dilemma faced many. Its rare that everyone in a household is unemployed at the same time, even rarer that if they chose to move home, they could all find jobs in the place they move to. No such problem exists where people are able to all work for companies that may exist anywhere in the world, but where their work can be done from the workers residence. It also means workers can avoid the problems of property speculation pushing up their living costs, by buying houses in low cost areas of the country/world.

Singapore already has broadband speeds to every home sufficient to stream 3-D TV, and it enables kids to study from home without wasting time every day having to travel to school and back. They can also be given the benefit of tuition by the best educationalists and teachers, rather than just those available to a local school. Babylon is rolling out a healthcare programme that enables people to get appointments to see doctors within a very short time, and the development of health science technology will revolutionise healthcare in the next 5-10 years. Healthcare like education and other services is moving away from the old Fordist model to a new model based on flexible specialisation, as Aglietta predicted about 40 years ago.