I apologize for not posting about the Hay festival sooner. It is day three for me now, and there is still a week of it to go. I went to my second talk yesterday, a debate with a three-man panel over the future of work and technology in Britain. Chairing the panel was Jesse Norman, the Conservative MP for Hereford, and with him sat Dr. Brendan Burchell of Cambridge University’s Sociology department and ‘London’s Networking Queen’ – Julia Hobsbawm.
It looked to be an exciting seminar; both the speakers and the audience were bright (at first glance), and there was a fairly unanimous agreement on the issues within our national economy. There was emphasis on ‘networking’ and social relations, hailing these things to be the backbone of any working institution. It soon began to strike me that the panel were merely stating the obvious, and beginning to digress off topic. I grew tired of it all rather quickly, because the central question seemed to remain unanswered.
Then things went from bad to worse. The topic of unemployment and economic plight digressed into the roots of social isolation, they tried to blame technology at first, of course the audience ate that up: Once again I had found myself being one of the youngest in the seminar, and (like the previous talk) the seats were occupied with future-fearing eccentrics, conservative modernists and of-course the self-asserting egotists; these people have their own perceptions of the world we live in (and clearly their own twisted solutions), and it was very clear that their ideological beliefs were very different to mine. One man stood up and called conventional technology (the internet in particular) a disease of society, he blamed it for ruining work output and pushing us into recession. This, of course is a hefty allegation, and a rather outrageous one at that. I was convinced that they would mock him for such a ridiculous statement, instead they agreed. I couldn’t believe it…
Five minutes later someone brought up the topic of freelance work, and the E-Nomad. Hobsbawm (whom had just condemned social-networking and modern communications) suddenly jumped boats, and proclaimed social networking to be (in actuality) our saving grace.
After thoroughly contradicting themselves the panel moved on to the ‘solution to our economic recession’. Essentially their great idea was split into two parts; firstly the ‘common working class’ must be persuaded or tricked into believing that the ‘grotty jobs’ are just as important’ as the higher tier jobs, and secondly they must (to paraphrase this entire section of the talk WITHOUT exaggeration) ‘know their place’, and stay there.
Apparently a stricter, tougher approach to the hierarchical chain within society must be applied, there must be someone doing the ‘grotty work’ (obviously not the speakers though)
From what I could gather these people were pretty much suggesting crude feudalism as a solution to the recession. Perhaps they did not take into consideration the severity of the backlashes nationwide, not to mention the sheer refusal from most of the nation (should this occur). Sugarcoat it all you want, build up some sort of hopelessly optimistic hype, similar to Cameron’s patronising “We’re all in it together” vibe. People see right through it, because as surprising as it may be, people are not as stupid as they’re made out to be (most of the time anyway).
I don’t know what era these people think we are living in, but it is totally off. The time we live in now is not so simple; it’s not like there is an abundance of available work, there is no safety net to catch the fleeting ‘underclass’. There is nothing left to shut down, there is not enough money to start something new, we cannot make our economic problems go away because we are in a slump, and this is a slump that only some of us should pay for (apparently)…Students, emerging generations and foolhardy semi-professionals have shuffled through life, being herded like cattle from one institution to another, and what have we been taught? To rely on the system, to look to the educational system to feed us, there is little to no widespread system of employability, of practical education. The growing legions of the unemployed have their reasons for their failure, but a growing number of them are simply individuals who have no guidance, who have been duped and churned out by our ‘flawless’ institutions into confused, hopeless outcasts.
You’d think the academic Elite of Cambridge and London would have taken this into consideration before throwing such a rash conclusion into the air, but apparently not… Instead of sympathising with the by-products of a broken machine they mocked them. They mocked students, they joked about (and I quote) how we “piss away three years” and the audience laughed about it. The panel did not blame the failing institutions for contributing to the unemployment issue, they blamed the people. According to Hobsbawm students are all inherently “Socially Autistic”. I literally could not believe what I was hearing, it was astonishing.
If I am as stupid as you make me out to be then what am I doing going to all these seminars???
Meanwhile Mr Norman was cracking smug jokes all the way through, and Dr. Burchell was repeatedly going back on his word whenever a member of the audience challenged him. None of the three accepted that they were making mistakes, the arrogance was surpassed only by the surrealism of it all.
Contradictions left, right and centre. And the stink of stereotype and prejudice, soiling the credibility of everything these people said; they really had no idea what they were talking about. These great minds of the white-collar world claim to understand and explain the ‘common man’, they are convinced that people are fickle and simple, easy to explain, easy to control and easy to satisfy. Yet the answers to their issues elude them.
Beneath the pretentiousness of it all, their discussions about the future of work were hypocritical, insidious and ultimately flawed. They ended the discussion without a concrete conclusion, and their arguments were contradictory. Their responses to queries consisted of an arrogant “I was getting to that” sentiment, unless they could not at all answer the question that was thrown to them (this happened once or twice) during which the speakers would patronise the speaker with jokes and subtle attacks.
I left that discussion feeling insulted, and ripped off. It only proved one thing:
I do have a reason to worry about people. How can we think like this and expect to move forward as a society? It’s not going to happen, yes there is an ‘underclass’, but there are way too many variables to talk about them as one homogeneous mass. People aren’t that simple! Just look at the prison system, even with the class barrier removed, with everyone dressed the same and on equal levels, people find ways to segregate themselves into a hierarchy (just look at the racial segregation). This panel of distinguished heavy hitters supposedly represent the cutting edge of social studies and politics; these people are at the heights of their fields, yet they are totally out of sync with the world outside of their social circles. I don’t have the answers, but this seminar just proved to me that the academic super classes don’t either.