I am not a great fan of Max Hastings but he does have a rather good article in the Guardian that makes points which should be obvious to everyone except state apparatchiks. He decries educational utilitarianism and Labour’s lack of realism about the dominance of western culture and the relevance of British history in view of that undeniable dominance.
However I think he rather misses the point that this attitude has been a significant element for quite some time under governments of both parties. Perhaps what makes this government more alarming is their taste for depreciating any sense of cultural identity for English people and, most importantly, failing to provide any historical context for the modern world. To have a broad grasp of history is to have an understanding of the present and future possibilities and it would appear that is not seen as helpful for the broad masses of people who the state would rather see concentrate on mere technical skills.
I wonder if there are some in Whitehall who really do think that ideally as few British people as possible should know there was not always a socialist ‘National Health Service’? If people do not know of a past without something they are perhaps less likely to imagine a future without it either. Perhaps none would really see things in quite such totalitarian terms yet it is not hard to see the attraction of such a view if you do not want people even discussing things which might reduce your power and influence by questioning certain axioms.
It is often my experience that the very notion that most regulatory planning is a quite modern imposition strikes a lot of people as bizarre. They think that without politically driven planning, everything would be chaos, and that must always have been true, right? Yet before the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, which was the single most destructive abridgement of British liberty ever, people owned property with several rights that are unimaginable today. Civilization would not end if such conditions prevailed again tomorrow (far from it) yet the meta-contextual reality is that in 2005, most people quite literally cannot imagine a world without planning regulations and that makes it rather hard to have a discussion about the issue if you take a radical perspective (i.e. the mainstream perspective of about one hundred years ago).
Perhaps just as Orwell wrote about ‘newspeak’ and posited a totalitarian state which wanted to abridge the language to make even conceiving of dissent impossible, there may be some amongst the political class who like the idea of most people receiving nothing more than technical training as the less people know of radically different world views that are never the less relevant to western culture, the less likely they are to imagine society functioning just fine without a great many of the state institutions taken for granted today. What would happen if people start imagining a world which works just fine without much of the regulatory statism that the state wants you to accept as inevitable and natural?
Creating a non-statist meta-context in which such things can even be discussed is something I have often banged on about. By this I mean establishing frames of reference within which one develops and expresses opinions that are broader than those generally found in the mainstream media or academia today. This matters because the meta-context within which most discussions and analysis take place tends to define the basic range of views that are likely to emerge: for example, if the only method for effecting changes people can imagine involves force backed democratic political processes, their views will tend to develop with that underpinning assumption in mind.
I would be curious to know if people like education minister Charles Clarke really think about that sort of thing. I am quite willing to believe that rather than an sinister overarching world view designed to make us all technically trained drones monitored with panoptic surveillance and ubiquitous state enforced database monitoring, we are just seeing the results of dreary political hacks looking for ways to eliminate things they are too limited to see a use for themselves. Stupidity rather than malevolence is generally a more reliable explanation of wickedness than conspiracy theories… and yet when you take the broader view of this apparent dislike of non-technical education within the context of widespread abridgement of civil liberties by both main political parties, well, it makes you wonder.