06 April 2011

How not to improve prospects for the able

Ministers want to end the head-start given to rich children, whose parents land them great internships and jobs ‘by having a word down the tennis club with people that matter’, a coalition source said. ... [Mr Clegg said] ‘A country that is socially mobile bases opportunity on your ability and drive, not on who your father’s friends are.’ (Daily Mail 5 April 2011.)

This is certainly not a socially mobile country. Opportunity is not based on ‘ability and drive’ except inversely. In my experience, opportunity is rigorously denied to ability and drive.

One rationalisation that is made use of, in the process of blocking the really able, is blaming parents for pushing the person of ability in some way, as happened to me.

Although my parents were in no position to provide me with contacts, it was the ‘Old Boys’ Network’ that gave me any chances I have ever had in attempting to recover from my ruined ‘education’. The ‘family connections’ involved were not my own, but those of other people, and so they were not very stable or wholehearted, but I would have been even worse off without them.

The Old Boys’ Network might have been more useful to me if not so intimately intertwined with the Old Girls’ Network, which was extremely active in opposing me. In this sense feminism has been a bad thing, and has made it harder for people like me to rise from humble backgrounds - and probably even from wealthy backgrounds. There are now many more statusful and influential women who, in my experience, energetically oppose the rise of a woman with drive and ability.

I have clawed my way up painfully with all gratitude to capitalism (starting with no money) and to the Old Boys’ Network, although it largely turned against me - on account of my drive and ability, perhaps; I might have done better if I had had less of both, to judge from the academically statusful people who blocked my path. The school and university system provided me with nothing but opposition.

[Mr Clegg and Mr Duncan Smith] insisted the strategy is not ‘social engineering’ but about ‘creating a level playing field’. ‘We want a society in which success is based on what you know, not who you know or which family you were born into,’ they said. (Ibid.)

If you want a level playing field, eliminate state education and state-funded universities which stack the odds too heavily against drive and ability.

Your ability to rise should depend on what you know? But one is only supposed to ‘know’ things in which one has a socially recognised ‘qualification’, and it is easy to prevent a person from getting those. And even if what one knows is recognised, what actually matters (or what ought to matter from the point of view of making useful contributions) is whether one is able, or motivated, to do anything with it.