Sunday, March 05, 2017

Pontevedra Pensées: 5.3.17

The practice (art?) of doing a runner from a restaurant is known in Spain as un sinpa. From sin pagar, 'without paying'. There's a group of Romanians up in NW Spain who seem to specialise in this, booking large venues, downing the food and booze and then dashing for their cars. In one case, their brilliant strategy was to do a Conga out of the door. See here and here. One confusing aspect of this case is that the Romanians are said to be Roma. Or gypsies. For both groups, of course, these miscreants are doing a great disservice in strengthening the stereotypes.

Just what we need in Galicia. We already have 245, 000 hectares of the eucalyptus trees which contribute to and benefit from our regular fires. So, it was warming(Geddit?) to read that the Xunta is aiming for 425,000 hectares by 2032. It's a cash crop, of course.

Thanks to their inventiveness - e g. charging municipal taxes for everything on your property they label an asset  - 80% of Galicia's city/town councils now rake in more than they did in the pre-Crash year of 2007. Perhaps the best example I've read of was hitting the autovia companies for the highways they manage. Impressive. Except when you're reading of the latest fraudulent politician or business executive with offshore funds which he or she will be keeping and spending after a short spell in a luxury jail. If they're unlucky.

As you read of Trump's allegations against Obama and, specifically, his use of 'bad' and 'sick', recall the comments in yesterday's article about how the use of technology allows the people behind him to identify which adjectives will cause the greatest impact on the internet. On Twitter specifically. Perhaps here we have the explanation for the paucity of Trump's public vocabulary. It was suggested months ago that this was not an accident but a deliberate strategy. Now we know this is likely to be true.

Which reminds me:-

 1. More from those US evangelist nutters:-
  • Gohmert told his wife on the night of the election that: If it doesn’t go well, I’m probably going to be in jail within four years because I’m going to be part of the Christian-loving group that they say is hateful. 
  • There’s an anointing on Trump. And God literally makes his enemies look foolish.
2. Sightings of UFOs have increased fourfold since the 1990s. Experts think this is because we have become more deranged. That great facilitator for mental illness, the internet, is also to blame.

Moving from Right to Left . . . 

There are Liberals and Liberals. The fascinating (and probably) seminal article I've posted below will explain why I say this. The author, David Goodheart, was a co-founder and then editor of the very estimable Prospect magazine. Towards the end, he describes his form of liberalism, to which I like to think I have long subscribed. The article, by the way, should be read by everyone who thinks support for Brexit comes largely from narrow-minded, bigots and racists. Though I doubt many of my readers are in this box.

By the way . . . The word Liberal means 'rampant communist' in the USA. Except when it comes to economics. Where it means the opposite.

Finally . . . Another cartoon to lighten the mood:-


Brexit and the election of Donald Trump — the two biggest protest votes in modern democratic history — marked not so much the arrival of the populist era in western politics as its coming of age.

Since the turn of the century, western politics has had to make room for a range of voices preoccupied with national borders and pace of change, appealing to people who feel displaced by a more open, ethnically fluid, graduate-favouring economy and society, designed by and for the new elites.

Many liberal-minded people in Britain and elsewhere have been uncomfortable about granting space to these political forces and regard hostility to the openness required by European integration and a more global economy as simply irrational, if not xenophobic.

Some of those remainers reported waking up the day after the Brexit vote feeling, at least briefly, that they were living in a foreign country. If that was, indeed, the case, they were merely experiencing, in reverse, what a majority of people apparently feel every day.

For several years now more than half of British people have agreed with this statement (and similar ones): “Britain has changed in recent times beyond recognition; it sometimes feels like a foreign country and this makes me feel uncomfortable.” Older people, the least well educated and the least affluent are most likely to concur, but there is quite widespread support from other groups too.

Even allowing for the querulous spirit that opinion polls often seem to inspire, this is an astonishing thing for the majority of the population to agree to in a country as stable, peaceful, rich and successful as today’s Britain. It is a similar story in America, where 81% of Trump supporters said life was better 50 years ago. What is going on?

The old distinctions of class and economic interest have not disappeared but are increasingly overlaid by a larger and looser one — between the people who see the world from Anywhere and the people who see it from Somewhere.

Anywheres dominate our culture and society. They tend to do well at school and then usually move from home to a residential university in their late teens and on to a career in the professions that might take them to London or even abroad for a year or two.

Such people have portable, “achieved” identities, based on educational and career success, which make them generally comfortable and confident with new places and people.

Somewheres are more rooted and usually have “ascribed” identities — Scottish farmer, working-class Geordie, Cornish housewife — based on group belonging and particular places.

One core group of Somewheres has been called the “left behind” — mainly older white working-class men with little education. They have lost economically, with the decline of well-paid jobs for people without qualifications, and culturally, too, with the disappearance of a distinct working-class culture and the marginalisation of their views in the public conversation.

Somewhere ambivalence about recent social trends spreads far beyond this group, however, and is shared by many in all social classes, especially the least mobile. Despite recent increases in geographical mobility, about 60% of British people still live within 20 miles of where they lived when they were 14.

Of course, few of us belong completely to either group — we all have a mix of achieved and ascribed identities — and there is a large minority of Inbetweeners. Even the most cosmopolitan and mobile members of the Anywhere group retain some connection with their roots and even the most small-town Somewhere might go on holiday abroad.

Anywheres and Somewheres do not overlap precisely with more conventional social categories. Rather, they are looser alignments of sentiment and world-view. Both groups include a huge variety of people and social types — Somewheres range from northern working-class pensioners to home counties market town Daily Mail readers; Anywheres from polished business executives to radical academics.

The two value clusters are clearly visible in a host of opinion and belief surveys — with Anywheres making up 20-25% of the population, compared with about half for Somewheres (and the rest Inbetweeners).

My new book, The Road to Somewhere, is a plea for a less headstrong Anywhere liberalism. The Anywheres have counted for too much in the past 25 years — their sense of political entitlement startlingly revealed by their reaction to the Brexit and Trump votes — and populism, in its many shapes and sizes, has arisen as a counterbalance to their dominance throughout the developed world. It can be a destructive counterbalance, but if we are to be tough on populism we must be tough on the causes of populism too — and one of those causes has been Anywhere overreach.

The Anywhere ideology — or “progressive individualism”, as I call it — is a world-view for more or less successful individuals who also care about society. It places a high value on autonomy, mobility and novelty and a much lower value on group identity, tradition and national social contracts (faith, flag and family).

Most Anywheres are comfortable with immigration, European integration and the spread of human rights legislation, all of which tend to dilute the claims of national citizenship. They are not in the main antinational — indeed they can be quite patriotic — but they also see themselves as citizens of the world.

Work, and in fact life itself, is about individual self-realisation. Anywheres are comfortable with the achievement society; meritocracy and most forms of equality (though not necessarily economic) are second nature to them. Where the interests of Anywheres are at stake — in everything from reform of higher education to gay marriage — things happen. Where they are not, the wheels grind more slowly, if at all.

By contrast, the Somewheres are more socially conservative and communitarian by instinct. They are not on the whole highly religious, unlike their equivalents in America, and only a small number on the far-right fringes are hard authoritarians or consistent xenophobes. They are moderately nationalistic and if English quite likely to identify as such.

They feel uncomfortable about many aspects of cultural and economic change — such as mass immigration, an achievement society in which they struggle to achieve, the reduced status of non-graduate employment and more fluid gender roles.

They are also, in the main, modern people for whom women’s equality and minority rights, distrust of power, free expression, consumerism and individual choice are part of the air they breathe. They want some of the same things that Anywheres want, but they want them more slowly and in moderation. Their world-view is best described by a phrase that many would regard as a contradiction in terms: “decent populism”.

The powerlessness of British Somewheres in recent times is shown by, among other things, the miserable state of vocational education and apprenticeship provision in a graduate-dominated society; the double infrastructure failure in housing (in the southeast of England) and transport (in the north); and the policy bias against domesticity and family life.

Both Anywhere and Somewhere world-views are valid and legitimate, and their divergence from each other is neither new nor surprising. What has changed is the balance of power, and numbers, between them.

Until 30 or 40 years ago, the Somewhere world-view was completely dominant. It was British common sense. Then, in the space of two generations, an Anywhere common sense has risen to challenge and partly replace it.

This is thanks, above all, to two things: the legacy of baby-boomer 1960s liberalism and the expansion of higher education, which has played a key role in disseminating that legacy.
The helter-skelter expansion of higher education in the past 25 years — and the elevation of educational success to the gold standard of social esteem — has been one of the most important, and least understood, developments in British society. It has been a liberation for many, and for others a symptom of their declining status.

For Somewheres, post-industrialism has largely abolished manual labour, reduced the status of lower-income males and weakened the national social contract — neither the affluent nor employers feel the obligations towards “their” working class that they once did.

The Anywhere ideology is invariably a cheerleader for restless change. When change seems to benefit everyone — such as broad-based economic growth or improved healthcare — the conflict
between the two world-views recedes. But when change does not seem to benefit everyone — as with the arrival of a mass immigration society and a mass higher education system for almost half of school-leavers — the restrained populism of Somewheres can find a voice.

Somewheres are often said to be myopic, unable to see that accepting change brings longer-term advantage. Yet it is also the case that the people from Anywhere with more fluid identities and an educational passport to thrive are well equipped to benefit from change, while the people from Somewhere are often not, even in the long run.

Anywheres tend to see Somewhere conservatism as irrational or as a backlash against the advance of liberal social values. It can be that, but it is also to be expected that people who feel buffeted by external events with little political agency, social confidence or control over their destinies will cling all the harder to those spaces where they can exercise some control — in the familiar routines of their daily lives and beliefs.

Somewhere conservatism may have shed many of the historical trappings of mid-20th century classic working-class conservatism — the Protestant faith, jingoism, white supremacy — but the instinct to stick with the familiar and to those small zones of control and esteem means Somewheres are often hostile both to market change and to top-down state paternalism.

Most Somewheres are not bigots and xenophobes. Indeed, much of the “great liberalisation” of the past 40 years in attitudes to race, gender and sexuality has been absorbed and accepted by the majority of Somewheres. Yet compared with Anywheres, the acceptance has been more selective and tentative, and has not extended to enthusiasm for mass immigration or European integration. Somewheres are seldom anti-immigrant but are invariably anti-mass immigration. They still believe there is such a thing as society.

Eric Kaufmann, a leading authority on nationalism and ethnicity, has shown that the Brexit and Trump backlashes were not only about education and mobility but also about a core values divide, relating to order and authority, that cuts across age, income, education and even political parties in western democracies.

There is a cluster of questions that pollsters ask about the importance of children being obedient, support for capital punishment and so on — known as the authoritarian-libertarian axis — and a position closer to the authoritarian end of the axis turns out to be the key predictor of whether someone voted for Brexit or not.

Strong authoritarianism is the instinct of only a small minority but the broader desire of Somewheres for a more stable, ordered world is now being heard in the parliaments and chancelleries of the developed world. And Generation Z, everyone born after 2001, seems to confirm this new tilt towards caution and conservatism.

Kaufmann emphasises the ethnic aspect of this shift: “As large-scale immigration challenges the demographic sway of white majorities, the gap between whites who embrace change and those who resist it is emerging as the key political cleavage across the West. Compared with this cultural chasm, material differences between haves and have nots . . . are much less important.”

For most of my adult life I have been firmly in the Anywhere camp, and by background and lifestyle remain so. In the mid-1990s I was the founder-editor of Prospect, the monthly current affairs magazine, that was loosely affiliated to the liberal centre-left and endorsed new Labour’s arrival in 1997.

But while editing Prospect, I also began to detach myself, intellectually, from orthodox liberalism — in particular after writing a rather speculative essay for the magazine headlined “Too Diverse?”. It raised questions about the conflict between rapidly increasing ethnic diversity and the feelings of trust and solidarity required to sustain a generous welfare state.

The essay caused an almighty row, at least on the centre-left. I was accused of “nice racism” and “liberal Powellism”. That brief notoriety triggered a lasting interest in immigration, race, multiculturalism, national identity and so on. And the more I studied these things and tried to defend my initial, rather accidental, scepticism, the more I became convinced that the left had got on the wrong side of the argument on mass immigration (too enthusiastic), and integration of minorities and national identity (too indifferent).

On matters of culture and community, the sometimes socially conservative intuitions of mainstream public opinion came to seem to me at least as rational and decent as the individualistic egalitarianism of the middle-class, university-educated left that now dominates the Labour Party.

Dogmatism and groupthink are not the preserve of poorly educated Somewheres. Indeed, progressive Anywheres tend to be more socially tolerant than Somewheres but less politically tolerant.

I am a kind of Anywhere apostate but I like to think that I can see the point of both world-views. My social networks still largely comprise Anywheres but when the conversation turns to politics I often find myself looking on as an outsider.

That does mean I sometimes hear Anywhere views in their most unvarnished form — my email inbox was full of angry contempt for the ignorant masses from left-wing professors in the days after the Brexit vote. And here are two examples of conversations I have been part of in the past few years that lend some support to Theresa May’s reprimand to the world citizens “from nowhere”.

At an Oxford college dinner six years ago I told my neighbour — Gus O’Donnell, then in his last few months as cabinet secretary, the most senior civil servant in the land — that I was writing a book about immigration. He replied: “When I was at the Treasury I argued for the most open door possible to immigration . . . I think it’s my job to maximise global welfare, not national welfare.”

I was surprised to hear this and asked the man sitting next to him, Mark Thompson — then director-general of the BBC — whether he believed global welfare should be put before national welfare, if the two should conflict. He defended O’Donnell and said he too believed global welfare was paramount.

Both men’s universalist views are perfectly legitimate and may reflect their moderately devout Catholic upbringings. They are views that are quite normal in some circles and may now encompass up to 10% of public opinion. O’Donnell, moreover, thinks that his views about immigration are, notwithstanding some short-term losers, in the interests of the average British person. But is it healthy for democracy when such powerful people hold views that are evidently at odds with the core political intuitions of the majority of the public?

If these were just private views that had no bearing on the jobs both men did, it would not matter. But O’Donnell was the permanent secretary of the Treasury when important decisions were being made about immigration — not least the decision in 2004 to open the British labour market to the former communist EU states seven years before required by EU law, and seven years before any other large EU state did so. By all accounts he was a powerful advocate for openness.

In 2007 I was at a 60th birthday party for a well-known Labour MP. Many of the leading intellectual figures of the British centre-left were also there and the conversation turned to Gordon Brown’s infamous “British jobs for British workers” in a speech he had given a few days before at the Labour conference.

The people around me entered a bidding war to express their outrage at Brown’s slogan. Chris Huhne, who went on to become a Liberal Democrat cabinet minister in the coalition government, declared to general approval that it was “racism, pure and simple”.

I remember nodding along but then thinking afterwards how weird the conversation would have sounded to most other people in this country. Brown’s phrase may have been clumsy and cynical but he didn’t say British jobs for white British workers.

In most other places in the world today, and indeed probably in Britain itself until about 25 years ago, such a statement about a job preference for national citizens would have seemed so banal as to be hardly worth uttering. But in 2007 the idea of a borderless Europe and the language of universal rights had ruled it beyond the pale, at least for this elite centre-left group.

Last October a similar row blew up over a suggestion, indirectly from Amber Rudd, the home secretary, that companies should inform the Home Office of the proportion of their non-British employees when applying to sponsor a foreign worker for a work permit. The intention was to signal to employers that they might be overdependent on foreign workers and not doing enough to train British ones.

There was an indignant outcry from business and liberal Britain — in some cases absurdly citing the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany — and the measure was quickly dropped.

A YouGov poll, however, found 59% support for the proposal and 26% against — proportions that almost map on to my estimate of the Anywhere and Somewhere populations of Britain.

Both Gordon Brown and Amber Rudd were addressing a real issue. As part of the greater freedom and efficiency of British business since the 1980s has come a weakening of the idea of the national corporate citizen, the implicit obligation to train and employ British citizens.

As larger businesses have become more global and footloose, employers have come to expect complete freedom to import skilled workers and in some cases unskilled workers. It did not even occur to the Labour Party to complain about this.

Business self-interest and the progressive world-view — with its stress on openness, rights and equality — have both become uncoupled from commonsense notions of economic justice, still seen through a national lens.

This uncoupling illustrates how the gap between the secular liberal Anywhere world-view that dominates our political parties, governmental and social institutions and the intuitions of the ordinary citizen has become the great divide in British life.

Can British politics broker a new settlement between the Anywheres and the Somewheres? There is a lot at stake. If Somewhere interests are not better accommodated into the mainstream, then further shocks like the Brexit vote are possible.


Eamon said...

I haven't seen anything from Alfred the great for some time on here. If you are reading this Alfie then let me tell you that you may end up on the Homer email list where you will see that there is some doubt about Homer being blind. You will get an email about every half hour in your email box so you will certainly be kept busy. I can tell you that Homer was blind but not from birth. His favourite expression was god blind me and eventually he got his wish. It is now a well known phrase in parts of Britain usually spoken as "cor blimey" as a result of students being hounded at school by teachers insisting that every child should read Homer's works.

Colin Davies said...

ROFL, Eamon. Alfie wasn't on the mail list. Of course, it wasn't intended that people should reply to all.

Eamon said...

No problem for me as I am collecting all the email addresses I am getting and selling them on as spam contacts. You can't beat modern technology. Before you close down your Facebook account get Homer on there and make some money.

Colin Davies said...

Too late. I did it yesterday . . . But I have 13 days left to change my mind . . .

Eamon said...

@Colin - I can see that you are not taking this Homer subject seriously so here is a bit more on the subject. There has been a lot written about Homer and also there is a cult known as Homer Sapiens. Experts on Homer all agree that he was blind but the problem is which god did he invoke. Over the years there have been schisms and to give an example the Vikings were one. They believed the god was Thor and no amount of facts given to them would they agree so they split from the Homer Sapiens. They brought the expression Thor blind me to England and hence as in my previous post the expression "cor blimey" which as you can see is a corruption of Thor blind me and not the word god. It was common amongst Vikings to be known as Thor bred. We have the same corrupted word Thorougbred which technically refers only to the Thoroughbred breed. Thoroughbreds are considered "hot-blooded" horses that are known for their agility, speed and spirit. The same as the god Thor. Just a few facts you may find interesting.

Colin Davies said...

Wonderful, Eamon. Many thanks for the out-loud laugh.

Alfred B. Mittington said...

Dear Eamon, dear Colin,

You are both raving mad.

Which does not surprise me, as one of you is from Liverpool and the other probably from Ireland.

I have nothing against people from Liverpool or the Irish, but they should not allow you people to run free in the civilized world.

As for Homer: he may have been blind but at least he had a great vision which is still with us today. Which is more than one can say for most of our contemporary intellectuals!

Alfred B

Colin Davies said...

Especially the one I'm thinking of!

Eamon said...

Well Alfred I can see you are a fan of Homer. I saw the Homer programme on the television whilst visiting England some years ago but it had been Americanized so bore no resemblance to what I had learned during my Latin studies. Trying to educate people using cartoons is not always the best approach. Regarding the Irish and raving madness I see you are not aware that the first mental asylums were opened in Ireland at the time of the Viking raids. People were forced to take shelter in tall towers but as the towers were small only a few ever reached safety. Being locked up had side affects which are still prevalent today. A century or two later a German author wrote a story about a young lady who was trapped in one of these towers and she used her long hair as a rope to allow her lover access. We Irish have great imaginations and can come up at the drop of a hat with some outrageous stories. I think you would enjoy some of the Irish tales that are handed down. My favourite is the long woman's grave. Follow this link

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