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Addressing certain realities… and a left critique that may not quite work… April 13, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Here’s an odd one. Chris Johns in the middle of a piece on how foolish Tory Brexit proponents are, given that as he notes they’ve already rolled back on their intentions when Article 50 was signed, says something that has long struck me, and I’m sure many of us.

The sort of things that often go along with both success – effectiveness – and job satisfaction rarely have much to do with Leaving Cert points or a first-class honours in something or other. The brutal truth for our children is that there are hundreds of millions of other kids in this globalised world with more and better formal qualifications. If you really want to do the competitive thing you need all those certificates plus a host of other things, not least of which is luck.

Perhaps the word ‘luck’ is the wrong word. Chance, is that more appropriate? The jobs we get, the one’s we don’t. Whether we go to third level or not. Whether we are positioned from the off to do something, anything, that will lead to some degree of contentment (I’m not sure that success is entirely meaningful as term).

And he’s right. In a this world there are so many people who are ‘qualified’. That queue is already full. How this system, this society, these societies, manage this reality is an open question. And for those of us on the left our critique one might think would have some traction in this. But it doesn’t seem to be quite working out that way.

Meanwhile, he makes a good point here:

The clearest example of a group of seemingly educated but actually inauthentic, unserious people is to be found in the current British cabinet. With Oxford and Cambridge degrees in abundance, Brexiteers are, on a daily basis, displaying their superficial approach to everything, incapable of paying attention to detail, clearly don’t read anything and are not devoting any thought to what happens when they fail to deliver on their promises. Instead, they mouth platitudes; they promise that crashing out of the EU with no deal will be a good outcome; and they threaten war with Spain over Gibraltar.


The mention of war laid bare the Brexiteers’ complete lack of knowledge of European history, the total lack of awareness that Europe has a hundred, maybe thousands of Gibraltar-like tensions. Gibraltar’s “constructive ambiguity” is replicated in so many different ways around the EU. This is why the EU exists: to make sure that none of these points of tension ever becomes a flashpoint for the nastiness that characterised Europe’s history. Another obvious example is the border on this island: Europe has rendered it invisible. Brexit places it front and centre.

There are many many reasons to dislike the EU, to loathe it, to want it replaced. But there’s a significant element of truth in what he says above about how the EU has managed to calm flash points within Europe. Of course there are obvious hypocrisies, and contradictions in all this, but it is unquestionable that Brexit has, as he says placed front and centre the tensions on this island. The last week has been stunning. Not so much that conflict between EU members is unheard of but because the rhetoric emanating from the UK has been so sharp, so rapidly coming on foot of Article 50. Brexit has consequences. This is one of them – a radically different relationship between the UK and other European states. Including this one. Including this island.

So far that has been dealt with in a relatively manageable fashion. Long may that continue.

But Johns is right. There is a fundamental unseriousness about those pushing Brexit. There always has been (bar a small minority whose efforts have had considerable detail when addressing the issues, sadly not on the left unfortunately – and they have been sidelined almost entirely to date, perhaps they will renter the picture). Indeed as the reality of Brexit looms ever larger it is telling, and Johns also makes this point, that the actual relationships that need to be saved between the EU and the UK and vice versa demonstrate that the sort of absolute sovereignty that seems to underpin a cohort of Brexiteers (and the most honourable ones to my mind, at least those on the left for whom it is an issue, even if I disagree with their analysis) is a relic of the 19th century. Britain can no more go it alone without Europe than it can rebuild the Empire. That’s simply not functionally possible in this century. And arguably that’s no bad thing.


1. Michael Carley - April 13, 2017

I think you’re right about luck, and one of the things that has changed noticeably over the last few decades is how much luck you need. Time was most people most of the time would have some reasonable certainty that unless they were unlucky, they’d be okay in life: not very well off, but not very poor either, and with some stable employment which paid enough for somewhere reasonable to live (maybe public housing) with food on the table and enough left over for a decent life. It might need some careful management of your finances, but there would be finances to manage, and it would not remove the need for hard work, but it was all achievable.

Today, for most people most of the time, you need to be lucky just to get that much: steady employment with a reasonable income that will pay for a decent life.


WorldbyStorm - April 13, 2017

Just reading your comment I was thinking I didn’t want say class outright in the OP because class position in the context of the one one is born into is pure luck/chance too (though I’m uncomfortable with stretching the issue into such more nebulous areas that all that implies) and the dynamic currently is one where as you say even former class positions which functioned to support some no longer operate as such in the current period. There is a phase shift of some sort and people aren’t unaware and I worry about how nasty this is going to get.


Michael Carley - April 13, 2017

I was avoiding saying “class” as well. Whatever might have been your class position, you would still have a reasonable expectation of a decent life, though your idea of a decent life would differ depending on where in the class system you were.


2. sonofstan - April 13, 2017

Just on the ‘unseriousness’ of the English ruling class; I read a piece recently, can’t remember where, talking about the intellectual habitus of said class, and more particularly, the PPE degree at Oxford that many/ most of them did. The assessment regime for the course is punishing, involving virtually an essay a week across the three components of the degree. It breeds what the writer called an ‘essay panic’ mentality, where getting a short term, readable, but in the end superficial understanding of a problem was the object of all endeavour, rather than any deeper knowledge, or indeed, care about whatever the subject was. They never grow out of it was the conclusion, and life proceeds as series of episodic scrapes, to be dealt with tactically according to the best result for you personally. The depth you might expect from such a degree just isn’t there in fact.


Michael Carley - April 13, 2017

This one?

“As a minister, you do sometimes think that British political life is an endless recreation of the PPE essay crisis.”



sonofstan - April 13, 2017

That’s it thanks.
Should have looked


Tomboktu - April 13, 2017

Wasn’t there a reply this week defending the Oxford PPE? (I’ve my own ‘exam panic’ at the moment, and didn’t read it.)


3. bjg - April 13, 2017

“The last week has been stunning. Not so much that conflict between EU members is unheard of but because the rhetoric emanating from the UK has been so sharp, so rapidly coming on foot of Article 50.”

I recently spent €41.64 on an ebook of about 100 pages, which seems expensive, but there was enlightenment on every page, and I think it’s relevant to the point you make. The book is “The End of British Politics?” by Michael Moran and the ambiguities in the title are deliberate. I recommend it highly.




WorldbyStorm - April 13, 2017

Thanks for the link, that’s very intriguing.


1729torus - April 13, 2017

Tom Nairn’s Breakup of Britain:Crisis and Neonationalism is a similar, but older book in that genre.


WorldbyStorm - April 14, 2017

Yes very true. I think Nairn influenced my thinking on that quite early on (I read him in the early 80s).


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