Great Minds


In the comments following this, a reader, Rich Rostrom, notes my use of the term “egalitarian superiors.”

Isn’t that an oxymoronic construction? They can’t be both ‘superior’ and ‘egalitarian.’

If the idea is unfamiliar, perhaps I should elaborate. In my experience, the more egalitarian a person says he is, the more superior he wishes to be, or assumes he already is. Egalitarian sentiment is, and generally has been, a license for hypocrisy, double standards and exerting power over others. Much as a professed disdain for inequality is a way to signal one’s own moral, intellectual and social superiority.

A rummage through the archives reveals no shortage of illustrations.

The Observer’s Kevin McKenna displayed his egalitarian credentials by calling for a ban on private education: “The ultimate iniquity is that independent, fee-paying schools are allowed to exist at all.” Picture the big, generous heart behind those sentiments. It offends Mr McKenna that private education should be allowed to exist - even when those who pay for it also pay again via taxes for the state system. How dare some parents want the best for their children when the best is something not everyone can have, or indeed benefit from? According to Mr McKenna’s moral calculus, parents who view the comprehensive system as inadequate – perhaps because of their own first-hand experiences – are by implication wicked. And so they should be stopped. Therefore Mr McKenna or his ideological proxy must have power over others to stop all those evil people who work hard and save to pay for their kids’ tuition.

In a similar vein, the Fabian Society’s Sunder Katwala wants to “make life chances more equal” by minimising the role of conscientious parents and discussing “the impact of private education.” Mr Katwala seems very interested in the implicitly negative “impact” of private education on those who don’t experience it. The impact of state education and egalitarian sentiment on those who do experience such things – say, the curious and able - doesn’t seem quite so pressing.

Then there’s the socialist actress Arabella Weir, who deceived Guardian readers about her own education in order to display her egalitarian piety as a “good, responsible citizen.” So egalitarian is Ms Weir, she seems to view children not as ends in themselves but as instruments for the advancement of a socialist worldview. As formulated by Ms Weir, “the right thing to do” has a sacrificial air and entails mingling conspicuously with those deemed “disadvantaged.” By Ms Weir’s thinking, even if you had a grim and frustrating experience at a state comprehensive you should still want to inflict that same experience on your children. Ideally, by sending them to a disreputable school with plenty of rough council estate kids and people for whom English is at best a second language. Ms Weir tells us the advantages of this approach include, “learning street sense, who to be wary of, who to avoid,” and teaching clever children “how to keep their heads down.”

Zoe Williams went further, signalling her sense of fairness by conjuring scenarios in which parents would be humiliated and punished for trying to do the best for their offspring. (“As for vindictive, ha! Good.”) The Guardian’s advocate of “social justice” delighted in the idea of parents’ access to their preferred school being dependent on displaying a leftwing outlook and inversely proportional to the value of their car: “Do they have a 4x4? Can the parents provide a letter from any local leftwing organisation, attesting to their commitment to open-access state education?” In a move echoing Soviet educational policy of the 1920s, our embittered class warrior then went on to formulate her own punitive hierarchy: “At the very bottom of the waiting list, put the kids who have been removed from a private school, since the intentions of their parents are the most transparent: somewhat above them, but below everybody else, put the kids who have siblings at private schools.” And Ms Williams did all this while carefully omitting any mention of her own education at a school where extracurricular activities include visits to the Sinai Desert.

Readers will no doubt recall Ms Williams’ Guardian colleague and fellow enthusiast of “social justice,” George Monbiot, who wants to arrest people he only hopes have committed a crime, and who flew around the world promoting a book telling the rest of us we shouldn’t be allowed to fly because it’s akin to “child abuse.” A position that suggests either a remarkably casual view of child abuse or, perhaps more likely, an assumed right to be exempt from his own professed moral imperatives. And let’s not forget the environmentalist David Suzuki, who denounces large houses as “disgusting” and thinks other people shouldn’t aspire to owning homes like his own rather spacious estates

Nor should we overlook the imperious Polly Toynbee - owner of a spare Tuscan villa - who insists “money doesn’t make us happier” and who calls for an end to the wrong kind of people earning as much as she does. Or Karen Armstrong, whose sense of “fairness” allows her to transcend mere facts and misinform wildly - for the greater good, of course. Or the playwright Jonathan Holmes, who expects to be subsidised by the taxpayer because he “speaks truth to power,” being as he is so terribly radical and leftwing. Or the late Barbara Castle, Labour’s “Red Queen” - a socialist Baroness who railed against private health care and denounced it as “immoral,” “obscene” and something to be banned. And whose adamance evaporated when her own son needed medical treatment and was discreetly admitted to a private hospital under an assumed name.

Further illustration comes via Jere Surber, a professor of philosophy who signals his egalitarian politics in a typically grand and superior manner. Surber’s leftist leanings are apparently the only “intellectually respectable way to interpret the broad contours of history.” He and his colleagues “have carefully studied the actual dynamics of history and culture; and we have trained ourselves to think in complex, nuanced, and productive ways about the human condition.” And so the professor finds it outrageous that “doctors, engineers and scientists” are regarded as more valuable and paid more than he is.

And then there’s the leftwing think-tank, the New Economics Foundation, whose Head of Social Policy, Anna Coote, tells us we would become “better parents, better citizens, better carers and better neighbours” if only our incomes were dramatically reduced. “We,” she says, will be “satisfied” without the “dispensable accoutrements of middle-class life,” including “cars, holidays, electronic equipment and multiple items of clothing.” The preferences of the British electorate – whose taxes fund the NEF - don’t figure in this brave new world and the NEF’s deep thinkers simply know what’s best for us. What’s best for us is “introducing measures to reduce the gradient between high and low earners,” “growing our own food,” and “mending and repairing things.” According to Ms Coote, “freedom” will be found in sameness, make-do and unpaid manual labour.

These assumptions may sound like the musings of a pretentious and arrogant teenager, but they’re coming from adults who hope to influence government policy and determine the shape of our lives. Readers may wish to consider the psychology implied by the NEF proposal, and by other egalitarian sentiments outlined above. Apparently, “we” will learn to find solace in the fact that everyone else is in a comparably bad position, economically and educationally. (Though I’m guessing “everyone” won’t include those who’ve taken it upon themselves to ensure our utopia runs smoothly and without obstruction.) We’ll be equal, more or less, and therefore we’ll be happy. And kind, and just better people. We’ll abandon our cars, holidays and washing machines, along with the desire to give our children advantages that we didn’t have. After all, these things are selfish. And we’ll take comfort – perhaps even pleasure – in the lowered expectations of our neighbours.

It’s the psychology of socialism, people. Just don’t get it on the rug.