Let’s stop treating the young as political sages

Clare Foges

We should be challenging the naive, unaffordable views of many under-25s, not kowtowing to them

‘Respect your youngers,” tweeted the pop star Lily Allen after the shock election result driven by a high youth turnout. But have we come to respect the youngers and their opinions too much?

Recent years have involved increasing youth worship in politics. Come election time, TV producers fall over themselves to put together panels of young people to offer up vacuities about “choosing hope over fear” and other quotes they may have spotted on Instagram. Grey-beard presenters nod deferentially at every complaint offered up by youthful contributors, however inane or ill-informed (the passion of youth requires no substantiation). Millennial mouthpieces on social media rouse the tribe with talk of reclaiming their future and how dreadfully they have been let down by older generations.

Then there are the politicians engaging in something akin to dad dancing; loosening the tie to get down with the kids. Ed Miliband making a midnight visit to be interviewed by Russell Brand, Corbyn shooting the breeze with a grime artist, Theresa May grimacing her way through a Snapchat interview. You’ve got to engage with the young, see, however unstatesmanlike the process.

And since Thursday people have been falling over themselves to congratulate the younger among us for doing their democratic duty; a five-minute detour to the polling station given the same weight as going over the top at Ypres. Young people posted selfies taken after the event and wore stickers saying “I voted!” Should they get lollipops too?

Yes, an increase in turnout at any age is to be welcomed. Only 43 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted in 2015. Although we are yet to see the hard data, the “youthquake” this time was doubtless real. And, of course, many people born post-1990 are spectacularly well-informed, public-spirited, energetic and the rest. Yet what is galling is the veneration of youthful opinion regardless of the sense it makes; this growing idea that being under 25 confers some special sagacity that the rest of us might benefit from. A generation reared to revere the words “empowerment” and “respect” is demanding that they are empowered and their views respected.

Last week’s election revealed the judgment of many young voters to be as we might expect of those with relatively limited experience: hopelessly naive. They turned out in their droves for a man who became a kind of millennials’ prophet; promising to lead them out of the badlands of austerity and towards a future where everything is nicer, cheaper, or indeed free. They voted for a man who would have endangered our economy, the whisper of whose name can send the pound on a swan-dive.

There is no wisdom here, no great lesson to be learnt; just the insight that many young people rather like being offered free stuff and ask few questions about how, ultimately, that stuff is funded. It has been suggested that the great turnout of the youth vote is an argument for lowering the voting age to 16. Given who they voted for en masse, I would say it’s an argument for raising it to at least 21.

This is not to suggest that the young have no cause to desire real change. It’s true that many have it hard: qualifications that don’t get you anywhere, work that is tenuous, homes that are impossible to afford. Serious action on these fronts would be welcome, within the constraints of our debt-laden public purse.

Yet the passionate sense of grievance among many young people — that theirs is a generation uniquely betrayed by the generations above — should not simply be “listened to” as though it were true; it must be robustly challenged. The phrase “intergenerational unfairness” has a lot to answer for, conjuring up a picture of the baby boomers and Generation Xers scrabbling up the ladder of opportunity and booting those below in the face. It hasn’t happened like that. Those older generations simply took whatever chances were on offer, from £50,000 family homes to university grants, and this does not make them the deniers of opportunity for young people today.

What should be challenged too is the youthful expectation of a free lunch. For instance, many 18 to 24-year-olds — reared on the language of rights — believe it their right to receive a free university education, as Corbyn exploited so successfully. What must be communicated to young people is not congratulations for backing wish-list politics but the reality that public resources are finite.

Wishing for a better world is nothing to be derided, and there is always something appealing about youthful enthusiasm. As Churchill reputedly said; “If you are not a liberal at 25 you have no heart.” But when it comes to the way we run our country, we have a duty not to kowtow to youthful dreaming but to confront some of the myths that underpin it. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Socialism is a proven disaster. These might not make for inspiring Facebook posts but they have the virtue of being the truth.

published in the Times 12/6/17

The Modern Worldview – ‘the birth of reason’

In the last post it was suggested that a common, inclusive framework of values that would unite us as a society in a shared vision is to be found, not in a notion of ‘British Values’ but in ‘Modern Values’. I would like to outline what I mean by this.

Let us delve in to history for a moment. What is generally known as the modern era, or modernity started in Europe in the mid 18th century. In what has been labelled the Enlightenment era, Europe begun moving from a society where the organizing principles were largely dictated by a traditional worldview (see worldviews), to that informed by a modern worldview. We can refer to a table that those familiar with this blog will have seen before.

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Expanding on what we mean by the traditional worldview, we can see that it is largely a religious worldview where all aspects of life are largely dictated by theocratic dogma. The holy book (the bible) is seen as the sole authority on the three great realms in life: what is good (morality), what is true (the facts about the universe and its history) and what is beautiful/meaningful (how to find joy and purpose in this life). As we can see from the table this can lead to rigid intolerance and dogmatism. We can also note that life at this level revolves around rules and roles.

It was against this backdrop of theocratic dogmatism that the enlightenment arose, and it was indeed a profoundly anti-religious movement. Voltaires rallying cry was ‘Remember the cruelties’, and those cruelties were the intolerant and often savage imposition of the ‘rules’ by the organized religious authorities (the catholic church).

What triggered this revolt against the theocracy? As noted in the chart above the primary trigger for the movement was what has become known as the ‘the birth of reason’.

So what is reason? Reason is the faculty of mind that fundamentally asks – why? It asks what is that reason for that? It is the mind that asks: How do I know the Bible is true?, What is the evidence? It is the mind that seeks coherence and demands rational explanation. It is simply not acceptable that irrational or unreasonable assertions are left to stand.

For example:

  • Q: How do you know the Bible is true
  • A:  It’s true because it’s the word of God
  • Q: How do you know it’s the word of God?
  • A: Because it says so in the Bible.

This circular argument is perfectly adequate to the traditional (pre-rational) mind and no amount of ‘reasoning’ with them will alter that fact, for the simple reason that they do not recognize ‘reasoning’ as a necessary basis for ascertaining truth. The modern (rational) mind utterly rejects the circular argument as incoherent and invalid.

The birth of universal reason and its growth to have organising influence on society led to the birth of democracy (why is it fair that the few have power over the many) and the birth of liberation movements such as abolition, gender equality, and the declaration of universal human rights. The struggle to truly realise the promise of these movements is still being fought of course, the point here is simply that all these developments were triggered by the emergence of universal reason. The rise of science is of course founded on rational enquiry and the demand for evidence to ascertain truth.

(Note: At a deeper psychological level the faculty we are calling reason is at its most fundamental level: the ability to take multiple perspectives, identify with them and then because of that identification be compelled to integrate them into a coherent whole. You can only truly empathise with the oppressed if you can first take their perspective and then identify with it. It is important to understand that it is this cognitive ability to take multiple perspectives and integrate them that  the level of complexity of mind that is the root of both universal human rights and modern science. In Piagetian terms it is the development of formal-operations (abstract, ‘what if’ cognition) as a level of cognitive complexity that transcends and includes the concrete-operations (concrete-literal cognition) that underpins the traditional worldview.

It is often noted that modernity clearly differentiated church and state. This is true but a more useful analysis is that modernity finally differentiated the three major realms of life: the good, the true and the beautiful. As noted above within a traditional society or worldview these three realms were undifferentiated. Theocratic doctrine gave the final word on all these issues. With the rise of modernity these three realms became distinct:

The Good (morality, or the way we life together) is to be determined by consensus and open debate, based on universal consideration of all people as equals (democracy).

The True (facts!) is to be determined by science, rational enquiry, and observable and shareable evidence.

The Beautiful/Meaningful (how to live a good life) is to be left to the individual to decide without interference from any doctrine, either from church or state. All shall be free to decide for themselves what God to worship and what activities to pursue to find meaning in their lives.

This differentiation was a monumental achievement and is the foundation of what we can consider to be ‘Modern Values’.

We can see from this analysis that the values that underpin our modern world are not a list of rules to be obeyed (this would only demand a traditional mind-set) , but are largely the natural value system that unfolds when one has adopted universal reason as an organising principle in one’s own identity.

This has profound implications for education. Everyone is born at square one, whatever type of society one is in. The goal of child-rearing or education has to be to develop as many adult citizens who share (as a minimum!) the worldview of society as a whole. In the case of a modern society this means that the more people that attain a critical thinking, rational and questioning level of cognitive development the better.

It is a tragedy that schools and colleges do not see their ‘raison d’etre’ as challenging and encouraging critical analysis of all the dogmatic, traditional and limited belief systems that children often inherit from their family conditioning. Under the banner of a non-judgemental multi-culturalism (a pathology of the post-modern worldview – a topic for another time!) young people are left embedded in their traditional intellectual silos and taught simply to ‘tolerate’ each other. The mutual understanding and unity that we desperately need to build a resilient society is not found here, it is only in the exploration of universal reason that a modern, unifying and yes – largely secular vision can be found. After all there is no such thing as Christian science or Muslim Science – there is just science. There is no such thing as Christian gender equality and Muslim gender equality – there is simply gender equality.

This post has emphasised the ‘good news’ of modernity. There is of course a ‘bad news’ as all development brings new opportunities and new dangers. The tendency towards scientific reductionism, consumerism and materialism have led to all sorts of traditional backlashes and complications. Untangling these issues is complex and delicate. I have mentioned them simply to acknowledge that I am not trying to present a one sided rosy picture of the modern world, but am emphasising the underlying developmental achievement that is implicit in all our ‘modern’ debates.

 

The UK nursing shortage and immigration

High on the news this morning is the announcement from the nursing profession that it needs to be allowed to recruit non- EU nursing staff to fill vacancies in the NHS. Currently there is a limit on this due to the desire to reduce immigration after very high numbers of net migration have been recorded over the last decade.

An interview with a representative of the NHS by Sarah Montague on the Today programme failed to delve into what seem to be some of the key questions and issues, such as:

  1. It became clear that if the NHS cannot recruit from outside the EU they will have to use ‘expensive agency staff’.
  2. This implies that there are perhaps many under-utilised trained nurses in the UK.
  3. If so this begs the question: Why are so many of our nurses choosing to work flexibly through agencies, who then seem to be able to hold the NHS to ransom with ridiculously high and unsustainable wage demands.
  4. Is it really ethical or sustainable to be poaching expensively trained nurses from  developing countries who are willing to work under cheaper and more traditional terms and conditions here in the UK.
  5. How then can we reform the profession to utilise the talents and skills of all the well trained nurses who are already in the UK.

 

To suggest a very brief sketch of this in terms of worldview development.

With reference to the figure below one partial perspective of this, obviously complex issue, is that it is an example of traditional infrastructure being dissolved by  confused post-modern worldview aspirations. Rather than trying to rebuild these traditional roles and systems within our own society we, rather sordidly, try to bail ourselves out by enticing people from traditional cultures with traditional worldviews to do the hard graft that maintains our first world comfort.

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courtesy of ICE