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The cheating language of equality

10 June 2014

12:52 PM

10 June 2014

12:52 PM

If you write about the mentally ill – people who suffer a short breakdown, maybe, or long periods of crippling stress – or say that those who must cope with autism, depression or schizophrenia all their lives are “handicapped”, you will be hammered. But not by the state and its supporters, or by members of the public with deep and prejudiced fears about mental illness.

You can say the health service is impoverishing care for the mentally ill because its administrators know they are an unpopular minority, who can be hit without a political cost. You can write about how the criminal justice system is imprisoning vast numbers of minor offenders whose sicknesses ought to be treated in hospital. No one in authority will mind as long as writers do not write so strikingly that they stir what public conscience there is. The preposterous truth is that the state and the judiciary do not need to police language. Mental health charities and activists patrol it instead. Bureaucracies and most news organisations follow their codes without question. Here from several sources is a rough but I hope fair summary of the “dos” and more particularly the “don’ts”.

You should never use words that have become insults – “lunatic”, “nutter”, “unhinged”, “maniac” – even if they were not originally insults or are not always used as insults now – as is the case with, “mad”, “simple”, “cripple”, “retarded” or “disturbed,” for example. If I were to write that the police hounded a simple man because charging him would help them hit their arrest targets, readers would have a picture of official harassment in their minds in seconds. If I were to talk about depressed women in prison, who are so afflicted by mental illness they are close to suicide, readers would know that I was describing a routinely misogynist criminal justice system. Plainness brings clarity. But clarity won’t do. Nor will basic descriptions. You should not say “the mentally ill” you should say “mental health patients”. You should not say that someone is “suffering” from a mental illness (or depression, schizophrenia or autism) or that he or she is a “victim” of mental illness or is “afflicted” by mental illness. You should say that he or she “has mental health problems” or is “a person with mental health problems”, a member of the collective properly known as “people with mental health problems”.

It may not seem onerous to insist on “people with mental health problems” rather than “the mentally ill”, but writers abhor clunky phrases and superfluous words. They are also rightly suspicious of all who tell them what they can and cannot say, and not only for egotistical reasons.

As he lay dying from motor neurone disease, Tony Judt retained enough intelligence to know the falsity of the soothing words he encountered:

You describe everyone as having the same chances when actually some people have more chances than others. And with this cheating language of equality, deep inequality is allowed to happen much more easily.’

If you do not say people “suffer” from or are “afflicted” by sickness then you please those who would restrict the funding for treatment, or cut disability benefits, or pack off confused minor offenders to prison rather than hospital. At best, you are talking about people who have brief bouts of mental illness, as many of us will, whose dislocation is temporary. At worst, you patronise people who need help all their lives with a tongue-biting euphemism, which covers up suffering in the name of avoiding stigma.

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“A person is not the sum total of the symptoms that they experience, these can vary greatly from individual to individual and nor are all individuals always symptomatic” explained one advocate of “positive” language. He was right to an extent. If a brief bout of mental illness afflicts you it is “stigmatizing” and “disempowering” to say that your sickness is all there is to you. It never occurred to him, however, that how defining symptoms are depends on their severity. The more severe they are the more defining they will be.

Another supporter of euphemism was honest enough to declare her opposition to accuracy in language. “Does ‘I am suffering from… dementia, arthritis, cancer, MS etc’ sound more negative and less empowering than ‘I am diagnosed with…’? Whilst the term suffering may technically be ‘correct’, I cannot see how anyone could not see it is not negative and disempowering.”

Like so many others she believes that you can change the world by changing language, a fallacy that is everywhere hobbling radical movements. If accuracy is sacrificed, they say, if basic descriptions such as “mentally ill” and “sufferer” are forbidden, if readers and listeners get lost and woolliness is held up as a model to writers and speakers, so be it. Waffle will lead us to a better future.

And because the desired change to the world is for the better, few decent people want to object. Newspapers, broadcasters, universities and government departments accept speech codes banning words that allegedly generalise, insult or disempower, even when the impotence-inducing insult is impossible for the untrained observer to see.

The political stupidity of providing solace to those who would remove public support for sick men and women should be obvious. Why should the taxpayer give money to empowered adults, whose ailments vanish in windy subordinate clauses or hide in a circumlocutory maze? Why should judges treat them differently from any other offender in the dock? But the folly does not end there.

The notion that you can change the world by changing language gets history upside down. Language changes as the world changes, not the other round, and I cannot see how you can take the lazy course and speed up the fight against prejudice by fiddling with words, when the real problem is malice. Even in the case of words that appear clear insults, everything depends on the intent of the user. Is he or she malicious or benign? The handicapped man bullied at work and the child bullied at school know it, as do all who attempt to “reclaim” language. From “suffragettes” to “queer”, groups of second-class citizens have taken the abuse thrown at them and used it for their own purposes because they understand that motive matters more than labels.

In 1928, the great American civil rights campaigner W.E.B. DuBois, put the argument best after he received a letter from a young activist, who was appalled that DuBois and his comrades were happy to use the word “negro”. Negro was a slave name, he said, which should be abolished. DuBois told him to toughen up and concentrate on what mattered.

Do not at the outset of your career make the all too common error of mistaking names for things. Names are only conventional signs for identifying things. Things are the reality that counts. If a thing is despised, either because of ignorance or because it is despicable, you will not alter matters by changing its name. If men despise Negroes, they will not despise them less if Negroes are called “colored” or “Afro-Americans…” It is not the name – it’s the Thing that counts. Come on, Kid, let’s go get the Thing!

The reason people accept bans is that labels matter to activists, who believe that designation is destiny. What are you to do when they confront you? If they say they want you to change the way you refer to them, it is only politeness to agree. If they say that your language fuels racism, sexism or any other -ism you deplore, you will give way sharpish, because you will be accused of the very vices you condemn. No one wants that kind of trouble, so they fall into line and cover sickness with sickly euphemism.

It doesn’t work. If it did, then once language changed prejudice would change with it, and there would be no need for further alterations. But the urge to rewrite is constant. There is never a moment in mental health when anyone can assure you that this change will be the last. Half the words now on the banned list were kindly meant in their day. “Spastic” was once such a respectable term that in the 1960s Britain’s cerebral palsy charity called itself the Spastics’ Society. It changed its name because “spastic” became an insult, as every term for mental handicap becomes an insult.

The persistence of prejudice guarantees that today’s approved words will become insults too. One day they will be branded as stigmatising and disempowering and be changed again. If you forget that it is not the language but the fact of prejudice which is “the Thing that counts” you condemn yourself to endless linguistic revision.

As you revise, you lose sympathisers. There is a particular type of heresy-hunter, prominent in the universities and public sector bureaucracy, who delights in pulling people up on linguistic slips. I cannot tell you how many good people they drive out of left-wing politics. They are sincere, they want to see political change, and some snuffling, pointy nosed witch-finder accuses them of siding with the enemy because they did not realise that words which were acceptable yesterday are unacceptable today.

To stop them walking away you must accept a small paradox: if you want to be radical in your politics, you must be conservative with your language.

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Show comments
  • Liz

    Everyone is disabled in one way or another, but only some forms of disability are used to define people. And those people tend to be the ones with low social status. Like all insults, these terms roll downhill. The only people in the world for whom there is no specific insulting word are the ones at the top of the pyramid. Language is all about power.

  • Mrs Josephine Hyde-Hartley

    I suppose what’s happening is the reality of things. However, some patients are certainly affected by the Mental Health Act, whilst others are not. One wonders if it would help occasionally to argue whether such affectation is fallacious, or even intentionally fallacious.

  • Fergus Pickering

    Evelyn Waugh wrote a book, and a very good book too, about the time he was mad, not the time he was mentally ill.

    • Kitty MLB

      Fergus, I remember attending a lecture years ago. On whether mental illness
      especially depression improves the writers abilities and makes poets more
      more creative. And no one could make up their mind, depends on what people
      write.
      I was quite surprised at how large the list was of depressed poets and some
      such as Coleridge and Shelley surprised me, and then there is of course poor
      Sylvia Plath.
      The list of other writers was slightly smaller and the odd person that was of no
      surprise such as Charles Dickens and Henry James.
      Oh and I had no idea about Evelyn Waugh being mad, a separate issue all together, until you just mentioned it.
      Fergus dear, I had no idea. And I have mentioned before about him being one
      of my favourite writers.

      • therealguyfaux

        “The average person sees the world hopefully. The depressed person sees the world realistically.” — one of those quotes which is attributed to many authors

        • Kitty MLB

          So seeing the world realistically rather then
          the way you’d hope it is makes you a better
          writer and poet because you are not under
          any false allusions. Maybe you don’t quite
          mean what I have interpreted you as saying.
          I must admit to having a cheery disposition
          and seeing the world hopefully.

          • therealguyfaux

            Well, you CAN quote me on this, as I have not seen it anywhere else: “Depressed writers see the world realistically, so you won’t have to.”

  • GraveDave

    What we need is for political correctness to go MAD!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-William-Gullick/579275954 Mark William Gullick

    Those who shepherd language, and hide behind benevolence, are actually uninterested in those they claim to protect. To enforce language in order not to give offence is actually to say; you will speak as I tell you, and not as you wish. Those who take offence and react, from tut-tutting to hounding people from posts in employment, are actually saying; “You have disobeyed me, and that is not your privilege.” It’s another great piece. Keep on banging that drum, Mr Cohen, until the skin wears out.

  • Chris Bond

    Belief in equality is nothing short of religious mental illness. It’s a mania. An affliction akin to obsesive compulsive disorder. Immigration is the most egregious example. To build your society as if every tribesperson from some backwater savage area in Kashmire with a geneticaly linked average iq in the low 80s will ever be equal to English people is utter insanity. Change the names to disadvantaged minorities or enriching cultures all you like; they are still tribespersons.

  • artemis in france

    I rarely agree with your political views, but must accept that your points are valid and your courage in confronting the euphemisms which we now call political correctness is admirable. I also want to congratulante you on the way you described mental illness as a problem. I don’t think you once used the much-abused word “issue”. This is a bit of a bugbear with me. Ordinary folk who want to appear cool use it now instead of problem and it drives me mad. It is, I think, an Americanism which has thoroughly invaded the media in Britain. It is loathsome. What is more, when the correct usage is needed, those same people flounder around trying to find another word to replace it. When no other is found they use “issue” for both meanings. Clunky and stupid.

    • SimonToo

      “Humphrey, I do not want to hear about problems, I want to hear about opportunities”.

      “Quite so, Prime Minister. It seems that we are facing an insurmountable opportunity”.

      [from “Yes, Prime Minister”, were anyone not to recognise the source]

  • Liz

    “There is a particular type of heresy-hunter, prominent in the universities and public sector bureaucracy, who delights in pulling people up on linguistic slips. ”

    And there is a particular kind of heresy-hunter who writes religious texts, medical texts, laws; sets up Star Chambers, legal systems, parliaments, schools for children, mental asylums; devises and codifies languages; launches a press. A kind of heresy-hunter who delights in pulling people up, then excludes, then prosecutes, then executes people for linguistic slips.

    These are the heresy-hunters who wrote the language you think speaks more honestly and neutrally.

    They incidentally understood the power of words to change the world.

  • Liz

    “Like so many others she believes that you can change the world by changing language, a fallacy that is everywhere hobbling radical movements. ”

    Rather odd for a writer to believe than language has no power to change things. Makes you wonder why you’re so upset about what language people use then.

  • Liz

    Would you want to be known as a sick man, Nick?

    Fans of such “plain speaking” (no more neutral than any kind of choice of language) are usually those doing it.

    • SimonToo

      Were I unwell it would be ridiculous of me to object to being called a sick man. “Plain speaking” is a term which usually indicates direct and unnecessary offensiveness. “Speaking plainly” on the

      • Liz

        You wouldn’t like being called a sick man. You certainly wouldn’t like being defined as one.

        • SimonToo

          My comment was clear – if I was unwell, I would have no problem with being called a sick man. If I was significantly unwell, I would, at least in part, be defined as a sick man. It is being unwell that I would dislike. I would not dislike being called or defined as a sick man.

          For someone who was unwell to object to being called sick would be extremely odd.

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW5pPXGrdTY Puss in Plimsolls

    You should never use words that have become insults – “lunatic”, “nutter”, “unhinged”, “maniac” – even if they were not originally insults or are not always used as insults now
    Oh, come on. They’re hardly compliments — ever!

    You’re so unhinged, my darling
    You can’t tell bread from butter;
    My sweetest little maniac,
    You really are a nutter

  • HaroldAMaio

    I find it interesting that you provide no way to contact an editor.

    Does language affect perception? It does. The words we choose paints pictures the mind sees.

    —-“Another supporter of euphemism was honest enough to declare her opposition to accuracy in language. “Does ‘I am suffering from… dementia, arthritis, cancer, MS etc’ sound more negative and less empowering than ‘I am diagnosed with…’? Whilst the term suffering may technically be ‘correct’, I cannot see how anyone could not see it is not negative and disempowering.”

    Suffering is judgmental, diagnosed with is fact.
    Harold A. Maio
    khmaio@earthlink.net

    • Colonel Mustard

      But the choice of words to paint those pictures should be free. I own my right to express myself in the way I choose, not you. And if you think others should regulate that expression, then who? And why?

      “I am suffering” is not judgemental. It is just a common expression, owned by the person who uses it. It is only viewed as negative and disempowering by those who set themselves up in judgement, like you. I find your desire to regulate how people speak negative and disempowering.

  • Fraser Bailey

    Well…yes, we’ve known all this for years.

    It’s nice to see that Nick has caught up.

  • http://www.readmypoems.co.uk Alison

    You have written about this before, but nothing has changed. Maybe you should use more effective language.

  • MC73

    “As he lay dying from motor neurone disease, Tony Judt retained enough intelligence” Well he would, wouldn’t he? Motor neurone disease does not affect intelligence.

    Just because he was a spack doesn’t mean he was a divvy.

  • LunarCity7

    Intention means nothing these days. Language has been policed to the point where not only offence but also meaning is taken rather than given. Tongue in cheek humour, comic hyperbole, self-satire, sarcasm, innocent intent, unawareness of the extent to which words have been made into crimes, simple not caring about your choice of words because your meaning ought to be clear- none of these exist in the minds of “activists”. Either you get the word right (but are probably not allowed to make any observation about the group of people in question unless it involves condescending declarations of oppression) or you get the “wrong” word and any informed, rational and decent point you wished to make is instantly drowned in the outpour of outrage as the listener smugly “educates” you over how using a word makes you a vile and hateful person.

    It’s political correctness gone…. something?

  • Pat Yale

    My most hated example of this sort of linguistic meddling is “cared for children” instead of children in care. Implies that other children are not care for, surely. Ridiculous.

    • RobertC

      … or even that they ARE cared for!

  • Cornelius Bonkers

    If you want to be radical in your politics surely what you meant to say was that you must be conservative in your politics too. Overpopulation in the now unstoppable scientific/technological world means that the growth in the numbers of HUMAN WASTE has to be denied for as long as possible while some kind of crazy solution is cooked-up. PC language is just one strand of this politics of denial which eventually will bring the West down to the level of the Rest. It’s happening in America so it will happen here…if we don’t detach ourselves from the madness of internationalism

    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW5pPXGrdTY Puss in Plimsolls

      Are you offering to top yourself for the good of mankind?

  • Damaris Tighe

    It’s a form of ‘magical thinking’ – the idea that changing the name of something will make it go away. Have you noticed how professionals of all kinds use bland, stilted, dehumanising language nowadays? I was listening to a schools inspector speaking on the radio this morning – even the BBC interviewer had to ask her to translate what she was saying!

    • Kaine

      ‘Twas ever thus. It’s why the priests spoke Latin.

      • Alan Hynes

        Nonsense – Latin had and has a precision that PC safe-speak is lamentably lacking in.

        • Kaine

          Your hypothesis is that the priest class of medieval Europe spoke Latin to avoid being called out for being politically incorrect?

          Well, full points for originality at least…

        • Liz

          Ah another white nominally Christian man who thinks the language of white, Christian men is neutral.

          There was nothing more PC than the anti-heresy brigade who codified our language. They excommunicated, exiled and burned people at the stake who weren’t politically correct for goodness sake.

      • Fergus Pickering

        The priests spoke Latin because it was a world language. English was not universally spoken even in England and the dialects were mutually incomprehensible. Samuel Johnson spoke Latin round Europe, even in Scotland because he did not have the Gaelic.

  • global city

    The irony is that almost all of the adherents of thought control and language manipulation are motived by ‘Self’. I have never met a left wing activist who was not an utter narcissist at heart.

    In all of the situations above, as Nick Cohen suggests, it is never the subject who gains benefit or advantage it is the harpy who is empowered. If you are ever personally cornered in one of those situations, just make the obvious statement that “this isn’t about empowering ………, it is all about YOU”

    All of this crap should be binned. Nick spends half of his time backtracking from some of his better points in order to maintain his ‘red’ with these lunatics. Nick, please stop it!

  • Nick

    That’s a good article (well, I don’t want to be niggardly with my praise – remember how that one worked out?). Heresy-hunters ahoy!!

  • Martin Adamson

    “The persistence of prejudice guarantees that today’s approved words will become insults too.”

    It is not the persistence of prejudice that drives the ever-burgeoning follies of of political correctness, it is the snobbery and sectarianism of the “enlightened” who use language to gratify their own egos by setting themselves apart from the common herd.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Although there are certainly elements of egotism and elitism I think it is also about their need to control and coerce conformity. Language usually evolves but they are attempting to regulate it, which gives them power over others.

      ‘Hate speech’ over plain incitement to commit an offence. A more ambiguous concept that can be interpreted to regulate what they don’t care to hear or read.

  • CarolJThayer

    No one in authority will mind as long as writers do not write so strikingly that they stir what public conscience there is. The preposterous truth is that the state and the judiciary do not need to police language. http://0rz.tw/YAAeL

  • http://www.petersaunders.org.uk Peter Saunders

    Another example is discussion of intelligence. Basically, you’re no longer allowed to use the word.
    Because of globalisation and technological change, low-skill work has declined in the west. This has left the developed countries with a major problem of finding useful work for low intelligence people to do. But this problem doesn’t even make it to the agenda because we are not allowed to mention intelligence differences.
    The implicit assumption is that education and training can enable anyone to do anything. This has resulted in useless, wasteful policies, the most recent of which is the decision to force all under 18s to stay in education or training.

    If we are not allowed to use the words, we end up being unable to address the problems.

    • Kaine

      What’s your marker for intelligence? If it’s IQ then we’ve been getting smarter since at least the thirties, and the biggest increases have been at the lower end.

      Intelligence is certainly a major part of one’s economic heft under capitalism, but I’m certain we all know very clever people who are cripplingly shy, or idiosyncratic, or just not particularly interested in making money.

      The question isn’t whether education and environment can make everyone into Turing, or Einstein, or Feynman. It’s whether it can bring the vast majority of people up to the level where they can participate in society. Considering the latest neuroscience estimates are that it’s about 20/80 in nature vs nurture, I think that’s an achievable goal.

      • http://www.petersaunders.org.uk Peter Saunders

        Not sure which neuroscience estimates you are referring to. Plomin’s recent work suggests it’s almost the reverse of your proportions.
        Why this mental blockage when it comes to acknowledging intelligence matters? Other aspects of personality are important in job markets too, but I suspect you’d never claim that, say, extroverts can be turned into introverts – you’d just agree that different kinds of jobs suit different kinds of people.
        So too with cognitive ability.

        • Kaine

          Plomin isn’t a neuroscientist, and I would be intrigued as to how the man who has previously staked his reputation on ‘IQ’ as a measure of intelligence squares genetic explanations with the fact that IQ has been rising for at least the past eighty years.

          I certainly would claim that someone extroverted can be taught how to restrain themselves in certain situations, or that someone introverted can learn how to be more outgoing and confident. But few people are just one thing. There are people who can give speeches in front of thousands but struggle in small groups. There are people who are the life and soul of the party and then find they can’t bear to be around other people for days. This is standard ‘tears of a clown’ stuff.

          As it is so with intelligence. Turing had a level of mathematical comprehension beyond many of us, yet was stupid enough to tell the police he’d had a male lover in his flat, something most of us would know not to do.

          Shrugging our shoulders in the face of ignorance and calling it somehow ‘natural’ is like shrugging our shoulders in the face of malnutrition and calling that natural. Yes, some children will still get sick even with proper nourishment, but far fewer. Similarly some children might not be able to engage fully with wider society even win decent education and support, but it’ll be far fewer

        • Kaine

          Plomin isn’t a neuroscientist, and I would be intrigued as to how the man who has previously staked his reputation on ‘IQ’ as a measure of intelligence squares genetic explanations with the fact that IQ has been rising for at least the past eighty years.

          I certainly would claim that someone extroverted can be taught how to restrain themselves in certain situations, or that someone introverted can learn how to be more outgoing and confident. But few people are just one thing. There are people who can give speeches in front of thousands but struggle in small groups. There are people who are the life and soul of the party and then find they can’t bear to be around other people for days. This is standard ‘tears of a clown’ stuff.

          As it is so with intelligence. Turing had a level of mathematical comprehension beyond many of us, yet was stupid enough to tell the police he’d had a male lover in his flat, something most of us would know not to do.

          Shrugging our shoulders in the face of ignorance and calling it somehow ‘natural’ is like shrugging our shoulders in the face of malnutrition and calling that natural. Yes, some children will still get sick even with proper nourishment, but far fewer. Similarly some children might not be able to engage fully with wider society even win decent education and support, but it’ll be far fewer

        • RobertC

          “If we are not allowed to use the words, we end up being unable to address the problems.”

          Isn’t that their objective?

    • MC73

      We have plenty of low-skilled work for the less intelligent to do, if only the tax and benefits system encouraged them to do it. As it is we have to get people from Poland to make coffee. Get rid of the minimum wage and benefits system and swathes of opportunities would be created for our thickies, even if they weren’t pretty enough to go on telly or good at footy.

      • http://www.petersaunders.org.uk Peter Saunders

        Yes it’s true that with no welfare, no minimum wage and no immigration from low-wage countries, there would be enough low-skilled work for low-ability workers to do.
        My point is simply that the problem needs to be openly acknowledged. Only then can we start discussing the desirability or otherwise of various policy responses.

        • Kaine

          So we should build a society where one’s perceived inferior genetics will happily damn you to a lifetime of pouring coffee for a pittance under the pitying stares of your betters?

          At least Hadamar was quick.

          • LucieCabrol

            Would you rather have a person of Hi IQ or low IQ doing your colonic bypass operation?

          • Chris Bond

            Who said we can build societies? Seems to me all we can do is warp the natural state of affairs with synthetic structures which are inherently temporary.

        • Samuel Bissell

          Oh Peter! You have either very low ambitions for yourself or are simply being a defeatist. Yes, people may question your cognitive ability, but I sincerely think with a little more education and support you too could be ready for high-skilled work. Just think! Wouldn’t it be nice to be the one being served coffee rather than serving it?

      • Kaine

        Except we had unemployment before we had the minimum wage or the modern welfare state, and indeed managed to control unemployment under Maggie’s revolution and Lawson’s view that unemployment was a price worth paying.

        Unemployment is a part of capitalism, it’s built into the design.

        • Fergus Pickering

          And under socialism there is no such thing I suppose.

          • LucieCabrol

            excellent…he failed to mention that unemployment has dropped under the Tories…and extra especially in comparison to socialist France…

            • Kitty MLB

              Oh yes and remember how exited Milipede was when Hollande
              won those elections. And how they were going to build a new
              socialist Europe. its not gone too well, O dear !

              • LucieCabrol

                happy days

              • RobertC

                It’s gone very well. Not only are they Socialists, they are French!

        • global city

          If Nulabour had not made a fetish of mass immigration they could have delivered full employment. They also thought ideology was worth leaving millions on the sidelines too!

          Just different perspectives.

        • global city

          If Nulabour had not made a fetish of mass immigration they could have delivered full employment. They also thought ideology was worth leaving millions on the sidelines too!

          Just different perspectives.

      • GraveDave

        Yeah right, like the British kid who applied for twenty jobs and ended up killing himself because all those bosses thought like you – that the Polish were more harder working. We have Polish street cleaners
        and not only cant they say good morning back to you, they’re just as useless at the job as the last lot. At least with the last lot (the ‘lazy ‘ British) you got something of a conversation in passing.
        And btw, it’s buggerall to with being less intelligent or a ‘thickie’. .

        • MC73

          You didn’t understand my point at all did you?

          • GraveDave

            Well, I understood your language.

      • AM184

        Are you saying that Polish people are less intelligent and they are good enough only for making coffee? You have no idea what you are talking about. For all I know you may think like 50% of not enough educated Americans that Poland is “somewhere in Russia”. The level of education in Poland for the compatible USA degree is much higher, believe me. I had to work really hard in Poland for my academic degree, while here in college, even with my language deficiency I don’t have any problems with earning A’s. And I have seen a lot of students born here and graduated from High School, who either were placed at some low level English that didn’t even qualify for transferable credits, or they didn’t pass English composition 101 at all.

    • Colonel Mustard

      The distaste to accept the existence of less intelligent indigenous people doing menial jobs has led to their consignment to another even more relegated role in society and their partial replacement with foreign immigrants whose occupation of menial jobs can be more easily disregarded.

      I spoke to a delivery driver a few days ago, delivering on a Sunday. When I expressed surprise he told me they were now working 7 days a week, on standard rates. Although he had been in the job for 9 years he was engaged by the company he worked for on self-employed terms and could not get a mortgage, even though his rent cost more than the repayments on a mortgage would. He was in a kind of hamster wheel and his only opportunity was a sideways move to work for a similar company. He was a pleasant, likeable individual and the extent of his intelligence should not be a criterion for the respect shown towards him. But we are immersed in notions of hierarchy and status.

      I don’t think low skilled work has declined so much as become more exploitative. I don’t know whether there are statistics but I should think the proportion of people in domestic service and within the delivery industry servicing consumerism has gone up rather than down. And the tricks the corporate world resort to in order to maximise their profits and exploit their employees have become more artful and, unfortunately, acceptable – mainly due to the importation of sharp American practices (and in some cases sharp Americans). Are overseas call centres good for Britain, from the perspective of the customer as well as the British worker? It would be so easy to penalise that and what would corporate service industries like BT do? Move their operations abroad?

      • http://www.petersaunders.org.uk Peter Saunders

        Low skilled work in Britain (and other western countries) has declined. One hundred years ago, about 3/4 of the UK population was in manual jobs, mainly routine and low skill. Today, it’s less than 1/3. But the ability distribution in the population is the same now as it was then.

        • Colonel Mustard

          Those figures are slightly misleading due to the population growth. They correlate to 21 million in manual jobs now compared to 36 million in 1914. Also there are probably many more service industry jobs now that are ‘routine and low skill’ but probably not considered to be ‘manual’.

          But my main point was about that shift rather than a decline per se. Manual jobs in industry have certainly declined but I reckon there are more people employed in domestic service and the call centre/warehousing/delivery industry now than there were in, say, 1965. The polarisation of rich and poor with the ‘middle class’ going in one direction or the other has increased. A local government CEO earns more than the Prime Minister, £200k, the salary funded by council tax, whilst an unskilled worker employed by that CEO earns £10k. The 95% disparity is obscene and no amount of ‘skills’ or ‘intelligence’ arguments should justify that. The polarisation is global as it is even occurring in Japan which used to have less disparity in company pay between top white collar and lowest blue collar.

          Unfortunately solutions like the minimum wage don’t work as they just encourage corporates to shed staff and/or pass increased costs on to the customer.

      • GraveDave

        A common sense post in the Spectator. Don’t expect too many upticks though.

  • CharlietheChump

    “Equality”, “Fairness” are now ciphers for the socialist need to grab private wealth and redistribute it to an ever growing state.

    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW5pPXGrdTY Puss in Plimsolls

      It’s nothing new: socialists have always posed like that, the world over.

  • pcmcgurk

    Yes. And how did the term “disabled people” become the norm?

    • RobertC

      Disabled toilets are never operational, by definition.

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