“Develop the virtues and talents with which every child is endowed”

From Rise of the Meritocracy*, by Michael Young:

“In the light of this approach [they] sought to give a new meaning to equality of opportunity.

“[It] should not mean equal opportunity  to rise up in the social scale, but equal opportunity for all people, irrespective of their ‘intelligence’, to develop the virtues and talents with which they are endowed, all their capacities for appreciating the beauty and depth of human experience, all their potential for living life to the full.

“The child, every child, is a precious individual, not just a potential functionary of society. The schools should not be tied to the occupational structure, bent on turning  out people for the jobs at any particular moment considered important, but should be devoted to encouraging all human talents, whether or not these are of the kind needed in a scientific world. The arts and manual skills should be given as much prominence as science and technology.

“[All] schools should have enough good teachers so that all children should have individual care and stimulus. They could then develop at their own pace to their own particular fulfilment. The schools would not segregate the like but mingle the unlike; by promoting diversity within unity, they would teach respect for the infinite human differences which are not the least of mankind’s virtues. The schools would not regard children as shaped once and for all by Nature, but as a combination of potentials which can be cultivated by Nurture.”

*Though the essay is satire, this passage clearly represents Young’s own views.


“Somewhere in the world life must be tremendously diverting”

Impressive sounds, some of them, seeming to assure you that somewhere in the world life must be tremendously diverting, exceptionally exciting, and all good clean fun in the meantime… And even, now and then, truth reaches you with the penetrating power of a very quiet voice.

– from “Largo by the Sea (A Prologue)” in Varmints, by Peggy Bennett.

(Thanks to the excellent Neglected Books for uncovering this.)






Mark Twain’s ‘returns of conjecture’ from ‘investment of fact’

One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

This was Mark Twain on science in “Life on the Mississippi”, but he could well have been talking about any aspect of the modern world.

It’s a human folly to interpret new information in a way that confirms everything you already think. In danger of repeating this folly, though, the Twain quotation hits home with me for two current reasons.

First, I recently reflected on my relationship with news and decided to make a conscious and proactive choice to opt out of the news, social and other media. This was because:

I’d grown tired of most sources of media. Their focus seemed only to be on trivial, untrue or highly creative interpretations of things to do with politics and policy, or fanning the flames of these things with news stories and opinion pieces. I’d also grown increasingly tired with social media, the majority of which was people sharing either trivial, untrue or highly creative interpretations of things relating to politics and policy, or sharing a news story or opinion column that had fanned the flames of their outrage. On top of this, I found myself frustrated with the never-ending wealth of blogs, reports, videos and so on which offered organisation x’s perspective on the latest thing y or z.

This clearly reflects Twain’s observation. In this case, ‘trifling fact’ was the latest policy idea or something political that had happened, and the torrent of interpretations, opinions and perspectives were the ‘wholesale returns of conjecture’.

The second is on the nature of evidence.

Instead of considering, questioning and reflecting on new evidence – what it might actually tell us, what limitations it has, what our interpretations of it might reveal of our own assumptions – our current policy and political approaches tend to use any new evidence as the jumping off point for any number of other directions. As I intimated before, this is because we don’t live in a rational, evidence-led vacuum that is protected from the whims of politicians and public opinion. This in itself is fine (well, it’s reality); Twain’s observation reinforces to me we should invest more in what is currently ‘trifling fact’ than where most effort is made – on ‘wholesale returns on conjecture’.

Persuasion for institutional change

It requires a great deal of hard work to persuade people that institutional change is needed in the first place, build a coalition in favour of change that can overcome the resistance of existing stakeholders in the old system, and then condition people to accept the new set of behaviours as routine and expected.

I just happened across this line, right at the end of Francis Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order. It somehow felt appropriate to post it at the end of this week.

See also this line, which is the best I have seen at dealing with the conflation of personalisation and funding cuts (which is, in my view, an inaccurate conflation.)

“Back in the sepulchral city”

I found myself back in the sepulchral city resenting the sight of people hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their infamous cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant and silly dreams. They trespassed upon my thoughts. They were intruders whose knowledge of life was to me an irritating pretence, because I felt so sure they could not possibly know the things I knew. Their bearing, which was simply the bearing of commonplace individuals going about their business in the assurance of perfect safety, was offensive to me like the outrageous flauntings of folly in the face of a danger it is unable to comprehend. I had no particular desire to enlighten them, but I had some difficulty in restraining myself from laughing in their faces so full of stupid importance. I daresay I was not very well at that time. I tottered about the streets – there were various affairs to settle – grinning bitterly at perfectly respectable persons.

– from Heart of Darkness

“The past was in them”

The past was in them, still disturbing but no longer a governing history; the trauma strengthened the convictions they possessed about how now to lead their lives.

Richard Sennett, calling up Freud (pdf) in writing about people’s experiences of Cabrini Green, a public housing project in Chicago.

“… be reclaimed according to somebody’s theory but nobody’s practice”

Much mighty speech-making there has been, both in and out of Parliament, concerning Tom, and much wrathful disputation how Tom shall be got right. Whether he shall be put into the main road by constables, or by beadles, or by bell-ringing, or by force of figures, or by correct principles of taste, or by high church, or by low church, or by no church; whether he shall be set to splitting trusses of polemical straws with the crooked knife of his mind or whether he shall be put to stone-breaking instead. In the midst of which dust and noise there is but one thing perfectly clear, to wit, that Tom only may and can, or shall and will, be reclaimed according to somebody’s theory but nobody’s practice. And in the hopeful meantime, Tom goes to perdition head foremost in his old determined spirit.

This is from Bleak House, and I couldn’t agree with it more. We need less thinking and more doing.

Quotation of the week

Part a:

The more we excuse ourselves from our common obligations, escaping into separate identities and a self-serving culture of blame and excuses to rid ourselves of the inconvenient needs to others, the more we weaken all kinds of subtle common goods on which we all rely.

Part b:

People have been using their wealth and loosened social, economic and moral constraints to rid themselves of the potential “inconveniences of others” in all walks of life.

– From Social Capital, by David Halpern.

“Big changes as if under anaesthetic”

The British have a habit of going into their big changes as if under anaesthetic.

—Lord Richard Wilson, former Cabinet Secretary

When making this quote, which I discovered whilst reading Peter Hennessey’s latest brilliant offering, The Secret State, Lord Wilson had in mind two major policy decisions of the last 40 years: Britain’s accession to the European Community in 1973 and devolution plus human rights legislation in the 1990s.

To this, I think we can potentially add a third “big change under anaesthetic” if the British public votes for a change in the voting system to the Alternative Vote.

This post isn’t the place to discuss the merits or otherwise of AV. But it is the place to register the fact that there hasn’t been very much debate at all about the referendum, and that we’re a matter of weeks away from a vote that would have a considerable effect in the short, medium and long terms on the conduct and effects of politics in this oldest of parliamentary democracies.

Quotation of the week, coalition edition

My apologies for not blogging much over the last few weeks. The most ridiculous combination of events has conspired to prevent much else other than work. There are no signs that this will change soon, but fortunately my esteemed and brilliant fellow blogger Phil is keeping us going.

In the meantime, how about this quote from a Lib Dem Minister, when asked what he would do about taking messages he was getting from party members to his Tory counterpart (who happens to Andrew Lansley):

We cannot operate by negotiation, but I will take the messages back.

I know we’ve not historically had many coalition governments is the country, but isn’t that exactly what coalition government is?