Friday, June 29, 2007

Ladders to nowhere

A lot of talk at the moment about the fact that Britain has the lowest social mobility of any developed country. It is quite a comment on the legacy of Thatcher and Blair that they have accomplished this, despite the fact that both were fulsomely committed to the opposite and both argued that their policies would achieve the opposite. It does not take much to answer the question of why mobility is shrinking, at least from the point of view of government policy.

But there are far more radical and important questions that need to be asked. The first is, why is there a 'ladder' at all? What is the ladder? The fact is that we neither recognise nor care how society really works, and that the mere existence of any ladders means that there will always be someone at the bottom. Does there need to be? If this the natural order? If it is, then it doesn't sit well with the fact that for 90% of human history we managed to have classless, non-stratified social systems.

Of course, the scale and complexity of modern societies, especially after the rise of industrialism, amplifies the problems to a fantastic degree. But these revolutions also gave the tools, intellectual, social and political, to solve the problem. So why don't we - even to the point that we don't even recognise that the problem - the problem of the ladder itself rather than the rate of movement up and down it - exists any more?

Are we now wholly incapable of envisaging a world of practical equality? Evidently so.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Poor Ms Hilton

I got my haircut this morning. My hairdresser (a rather nice lady called Sue) and I chatted about politicians and Big Brother and things like that. And naturally we talked about poor Ms Hilton. Our conversation confirmed the consensus I had identified during the week: as far as I can tell, not only is a 100% majority in favour of Paris Hilton being in jail, but exactly the same percentage want her in jail regardless of whether she has actually done anything illegal.

Yet, now that I am back from the hairdressers and looking quite ginchy, am I alone in feeling a twinge of guilt about all this? Isn’t this singling out just this one rather worthless individual actually abhorrent in the extreme? Doesn’t this persecution of this one silly person not violate the principal of equity on which our legal systems so proudly – and rightly – insist? There are after all many other bogus celebrities, and even quite genuinely powerful people, who are just as worth as Ms Hilton of a spell in jail, so why should she alone be treated this way?

This brings me to an idea that came to me many years ago, while fantasising about having Margaret Thatcher, Mary Whitehouse and Barbara Cartland wrestling together in Wembley Stadium, fighting to the death nude in fresh fish before an audience of 100,000 miners? Yes, that does rather date it doesn’t it? When were there last 100,000 miners in this country? But anyway, the idea was simple enough: that a referendum would be held once a month, and everyone in the country could vote for the person they would most want to be thrown into jail for a month.

Actually I think my original idea was that they should be exposed to some kind of very public humiliation, probably involving a chimpanzee, a dildo and a global TV audience, but you get my drift.

Personally I find the prospect quite enticing. What editor of the Sun, what particularly tiresome government toady, what ludicrously self-important celebrity would be immune to the public wrath? Or should be, for that matter. Although the right to privacy should be sacrosanct for any normal human being, the kind of person who courts public attention with the egomania that currently parades itself across our media has surely foregone any such right.

But perhaps this would be redundant. After all, who is currently a better case for treatment than – well, Paris Hilton?