A Vile Ingenuity

So Very Tired (2)

In a previous post regarding the strangely airless Liberal Conspiracy blog, we saw how the obligation to substantiate political claims with logic and evidence induced fatigue in contributor Zohra Moosa. Ms Moosa told us she was “tired” and “distracted” by defending her assumptions and wished instead to “actualize” her beliefs, unhindered by ethical challenges or reference to harsh realities:

What I need is a safer space where I don’t lose so much energy justifying why social and environmental justice are worth spending a lot of society’s money on.

Another item, by Guardian contributor and Fabian Society mouthpiece Sunder Katwala, is noteworthy insofar as it too makes assumptions that are grand, fairly commonplace and oddly unanalysed. Mr Katwala has written at length about “equality” and “social justice”, which appear to be regarded as synonymous, though neither term is defined in any satisfactory sense. In his Liberal Conspiracy piece, titled How Do We Get a Fairer Society?, Katwala argues,

In Britain today, where we are born and who our parents are still matters far too much in determining our opportunities and outcomes in life. And so our own choices, talents and aspirations count for too little. The vision of a free and fair society would be one which extends to us all the autonomy to author our own life stories... This ‘fight against fate’ - breaking the cycle of disadvantage to make life chances more equal - could provide the lodestar to guide future action and campaigns for equality.

If one strips away the tendentious phrasing, questions soon begin to occur, most obviously regarding “who our parents are” and why it so often matters. Does the “fight against fate”, so conceived, acknowledge the role of parental agency – specifically, the efforts made by many parents, not least by working class parents, to optimise their children’s “choices, talents and aspirations”? How do Katwala’s assumptions of “social justice” and “equality” - as ill-defined yet unassailable virtues - relate to the foresight, care and sacrifice which some parents demonstrate, often heroically, and which others, alas, do not?

If what parents do for their children “matters far too much”, would Katwala prefer the efforts of conscientious parents to be thwarted in the interests of “equality” and “social justice”? In Mr Katwala’s ideal, corrected, society, would the role of parenting in the outcome of a child’s prospects be rendered trivial, perhaps irrelevant? And, if so, is that really for the greater good? Unfortunately, such questions hang in the air, unanswered. Katwala is, however, keen to “deepen” this egalitarian agenda “within and beyond the education system.” To which end, he lists four points to “narrow the gaps in life chances” - all of which sideline parental responsibility and presuppose even greater interference by the state:

1. Ending child poverty.
2. Get family policy right.
3. Target increased resources on disadvantage.
4. Start a rational debate about the impact of private education.

Some readers may, of course, wonder why it is we have a “family policy” to “get right”, and others may have views on the role played by parents’ values and decisions in their children escaping poverty. Most will note that Katwala, like Ms Moosa, is keen to spend even more of “society’s money” on those deemed “disadvantaged”. But Katwala’s fourth point is perhaps the most telling. Note that Mr Katwala is far more interested in the (implicitly negative) “impact” of private education on those who don’t experience it. Much less concern is expressed for the rather more obvious, and much more negative, impact of state education - specifically the Socialist ideal of comprehensive education – which is, after all, where the “disadvantaged” tend to be schooled.