Some unpleasant little turd named Catherine Bennett has an article up at Comment Is Forbidden which is not only unbelievably patronising but actually dangerous.
I mean, the headline is an absolute corker—yes, I know that the columnists don't (necessarily) write the headlines, but it does betray the mindset of unadulterated evil that is endemic in those who run The Grauniad and The Observer.
Since when was giving people a choice a good idea?
That statement alone is one that takes my breath away. How can anyone who enjoys the freedoms and privileges of a liberal democracy—circumscribed thoough those have become—write such a line?
The coalition's obsession with self-determination, whether on schools or GPs, penalises the least able
Ah, yes, of course—the "least able". That's right: because some people might make bad decisions, then choice should be removed from everyone, eh?
Except, of course, the really important people. Like Observer columnists, for instance.
Anyway, let us continue with some of the highlights in this delightfully authoritarian article, shall we?
It is not merely the chorus from anguished parents (and patients), that they cannot exercise choice where there is no spare capacity, that might give a rational education secretary pause, but a growing body of research indicating that too much choice is overwhelming. Gove will know of the much cited experiment with jam, by the US academic Sheena Iyengar, which found consumers were more than six times more likely to buy a pot if they had to choose from six varieties, rather than 24.
This is, I think you'll find, a rather well-known phenomenon, elaborated upon in a 2004 book by Barry Schwartz called The Paradox of Choice—Why More Is Less. In this lovely tome, Barry opines that too much choice makes us unhappy.
But I don't think, darling Catherine, that he maintains that therefore there should be no choice at all.
If uncertainty about preserves is a problem one can probably live with, or possibly enjoy, a similar helplessness in the face of big, irreversible decisions is, to judge by a new study, State of Confusion by Professor Harriet Bradley of Bristol University, something that should worry a government that advertises choice as an unmitigated good.
And again, Catey-baby, I don't think that this government is advertising "choice as an unmitigated good": that would be very difficult to square with the fact that, actually, they are offering us very little choice in anything.
However, what this government does advocate is that some choice is better than none.
Because otherwise we would be living in the very worst kind of dictatorship and you, my little poppet, could well be working down a fucking mine—or simply forced to be a breeding machine—and not sitting comfortably at home and vomiting your authoritarian fantasies in a lefty rag.
I mean, the French (just to pick one example) have a massive range of choice in their health provision: they pay some Social Security to the state and for the rest they have to choose a private insurer, and choose a doctor and choose a hospital and... Well, you get the idea.
The point is that the French have far more choice in their provision of health alone, and they seem to cope. Not only do they seem to cope, but their health system is—in terms of outcomes—far, far better than ours (WHO ranked it the best in the world in 2000). And the French people do not seem to be standing still, paralysed by the choices open to them.
After surveying 3,000 people on their attitudes to choice, Bradley says: "I believe most people want the state to make these big decisions for them."
But this is the problem, isn't it? The state can't make choices for some—it must make choices for all. And thus those who do want to choose have that freedom removed from them. Or, of course, they choose to move house to get into a good school's catchment area; or—horror of horrors—they choose to send their children to private schools.
At which point, of course, they get attacked, ridiculed and demonised by Grauniad columnists (who all, of course, do precisely the same thing and so leaven their more aggressive articles with the occasional 1,000 word screed declaring how guilty they feel about being rich enough to be able to send little Jocasta to a "good school" rather than the local shithouse).
Anyway, who is this Professor Harriet Bradley?
BA (Bristol), PGCE (Bristol), BSc (Leicester), PhD (Durham)
Harriet Bradley is a specialist in the study of women's employment. Her broader research interests are the sociology of gender, feminism, industrial relations and the sociology of work, along with a general interest in social divisions and inequalities. A developing interest is in issues around women, health and maternity.
Ah, I see: Professor Harriet Bradley is one of these eternal students, someone who has made a choice about her career. In fact, Harriet Bradley made a choice to swan about studying sociology on our dime, and then to write articles about how we should not have any choices. Which is kind of sensible of her because, given the choice, I wouldn't be forced to fund her utterly pointless career.
This is a point that Timmy makes rather eloquently because, of course, people like Harriet Bradley and Catherine Bennett—like most of the other middle-class lefties that one meets—fully expect that they will be giving the orders, not having to obey the rules themselves.
An obvious question presents itself. Did Professor Harriet Bradley choose to become an academic? Work, strive, to become a Professor? Decide to write a book?
Wouldn’t she be happier stacking shelves in the supermarket if that’s where the State would place her to relieve her of the anguish of having to make a decision?
And if not, why not?
Is there perhaps some special class of people who both should decide for themselves and also decide for the peons? Those special enough to cope with the difficulty of choice and to alleviate others of it?
Because if that is the argument then they can all go fuck themselves quite frankly.
Absolutely right—these people are dangerous scum.
But hark! Catherine is not finished with her fascist screed...
This is not only because, in many cases, consumers are well aware that the choice of, say, school or hospital is – unlike a commercial selection of jams or phones or holidays – an utter fiction. The process of choosing is itself oppressive when the issues are life-changing, relating to health, money or careers.
Yes, but we allow people to have a choice of jams, but we constrict choice in the really important things. And because some people cannot cope with too much choice, we should allow people to have a choice of jam but not choice in their childrens' education.
Because, you see, being able to choose how your children are educated is way too important for you stupid, ignorant parents to be trusted with. The beneficent State will make the choice for you.
"Don't like what the State has chosen? Well, that's just tough shit. Here, have some fucking jam and shut the fuck up."
Or, to paraphrase Bill Hicks, "go back to bed, Britain: your government is in control."
In her London focus groups, [Harriet] found parents "absolutely terrified of the whole process of selecting schools", because of the impenetrable, changing rules about eligibility.
Yes, this is a reason to simplify the rules on eligibility, not to remove the ability of parents to choose which school to send their children to. And, of course, one of the reasons that parents might be terrified is because if they try too hard to get a good education for their child, then they will find themselves in court.
And those articles linked to above give the lie to this whole article: not only do people care enough about their children's education to go to massive lengths to be able to make an informed choice—they are prepared to break the law in order to do so.
Even allowing for those professional oxymorons, choice advisers...
Um, if people are confused by the choices on other, then they will often ask advice. Sometimes those people will be friends, sometimes they'll be a shop floor worker, sometimes they will be random people on the internet. If you have to make a choice, then you want to make the right one—so you ask for advice. So, I fail to see what is "oxymoronic" about choice advisers (assuming, of course, that advise is all that they do which is, I grant you, a big assumption).
... this situation favours society's most able, while it penalises confused, passive, busy or ill-informed individuals, though they all want the same thing: a good local school.
Yeah, well, you see Catey, my little poppet, we've tried the No Choice route, and it has delivered shitty local schools. Do you see?
Choice is not simply about giving people the freedom to choose the course of their own lives, rather than being funnelled down whichever route the state thinks best, but also about introducing competition: because, like it or not, competition makes things better. In this case, competition will deliver better schools—if only because so many of them (especially in inner cities) would really struggle to be any worse.
And one of the main reasons that people have such a difficult time choosing for themselves is because our education is so utterly, comprehensively [geddit?] shit that they have had all of their reasoning ability stripped out of them. And that is assuming that they are not part of the 20% who leave school in Britain unable to read or write.
For those people, "choice advisers" are probably the only way in which they can make a choice, given that they are unable to read about them for themselves. But this illiteracy is not entirely the fault of the people themselves: it is the fault of an education system that gets pupils and money regardless of results—because those pupils are forced to go to those schools, and we are forced to pay for them.
It is the abolition of choice that has created people who are incapable of choosing. But we should not screw over future generations because people like Catherine Bennett and Harriet Bradley believe that the world would be better if no one was allowed to choose at all.
In the world of Catherine Bennett and Harriet Bradley, we should penalise "the most able" so that we do not confuse the least able. These disgustingly evil harridans want to drag everybody down to the lowest common denominator so that everyone can suffer to the same extent.
Except, of course, people like Catherine Bennett and Harriet Bradley: they will be allowed to make their own choices, looking down from their taxpayer-funded ivory towers watching the slaves file past below.
These people are the scum of the Earth: god help us all if they are ever put into a position to be able to do anything about their desires. As it is, they can only whisper their poisoned words into the ears of the gullible, the stupid, the corrupt, the brutal and the would-be dictators: the only thing that Catherine Bennett and Harriet Bradley are upset about is that—unlike the previous bunch of bastards—this government does not want to listen to them.
And thank fuck for that, frankly.