A famous quote (wrongly) attributed to Albert Einstein is “everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish based on it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing it is stupid”. Whilst the origins of this quote are wrong, it’s sentiment is not- and to move forward as a society- and as a world. If we want the world to do, and be, better we must stop holding knowledge behind complicated wording and the paywall of profiteering.
I bought a book the other day. It is brilliant- “How to Stop Fascism” by Paul Mason. It’s edifying to read a book that confirms the crawling in my guts is justified, that my worries about society and the world at large are not unfounded and that people are putting pen to paper every day to fight back against the creeping ideologies of fascism, authoritarianism and hatred that wrap our societies in their gnarled fingers and squeeze decency out.
But the very act of buying that book, of having the time off to go to waterstones itself, then to be able to spend £20 without a second thought (though my inner child gasped at it), and then have the luxury of sitting in a coffee shop to read it, brought to me the irony of how our society is structured.
Those who need to read the message within this book, or within “Why I’m not talking to white people about race any more” by Renni Eddo-Lodge, or “The Assault on Truth” by Peter Oborne, the ones who would likely be more keenly affected by the knowledge within, may not have access to the funds, or time, or – through no fault of their own- the inability to grasp the themes, are often frozen out of the discussion.
This sounds so ridiculously entitled and tone deaf and I understand that- I know my privilege. I’m a white man, I’m a cis man, I’m a Brit who was reasonably favoured in school because I like to learn, and luckily learn the way the British education system teaches. I’m not trying to hold myself above others- but society does that for me and I think that’s disgusting, and it’s that which we need to discuss.
One of the best things I’ve read in my life is in the pages of “How To Stop Fascism: “all over the world the main driver of far-right extremism is the fear that people who are not supposed to be free might achieve freedom, and that in the process they might redefine what freedom means”. Look to this as the link- fascism is borne out of the fear of freedom, but it’s also fostered when people aren’t free to question these ideologies- not because of the dictator’s hand at their throat, but because they were never given the knowledge to fight back in the first place.
Those who are born into, and raised in a working class home, who are never taught in a way that allows them to imbibe knowledge, who are never told they are worthy of that- are kept out of the conversation, despite being a broad and diverse group of people who should have access to the knowledge around it- look at this (old but still poignant article about the rates of working class people who reach university) and when I speak about “the discussion” I am of course referencing the ever encroaching authoritarian and fascist tropes of our modern government.
This isn’t hyperbole- laws like the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing bill are authoritarian. Changing parliamentary procedure to allow a crony of the PM’s? Authoritarian. The Nationality and Borders Bill quite literally contains fascist tropes, as does the insistence of the PM that he would like Parliament to be able to overrule judiciary decisions- yes, this is fascism ladies and gentlemen. Fascism is not the sounds of boots on tarmac and orderly marches of subjugated people- that’s the most in your face, terrifying and immediate part of it. But it begins on paper, in legislation, and in the hearts and minds of voters who do not understand the depths of evil they are countenancing.
The latter leads to the former- and it will. And the way we fight against that is, of course, to address it- but not between scrivening academics giving theory and politics a ribald bashing in a page 14 spread. It’s exposing it in a clear, concise way, to those who don’t realise it’s there.
It’s too generous to say no working class people would embrace fascism. Some already have- through ignorance or, well, the fact that shitty people do exist. But to fight back against something as insidious as fascism, people must be made aware it’s there, and must be given the tools to understand it’s horrors. Those who have been abandoned by an education system that doesn’t foster alternative styles of learning are very unlikely to have picked up books on political or social theory and therefore learned about the horrors of a fascist society.
That isn’t their fault- it’s society. We continue to foster an education system that does not factor in alternative ways to teach or learn, from sensory and tactile to physically viewing and seeing things- from one on one teaching to open discourse in classrooms, peer to peer discussions… education is woeful in the UK, at serving the people it must.
This is not the fault of teachers but continuous lack of action by a government desperate to pinch every penny. Why spend money on sensory classrooms or trips or displays, when you can put in the same money and produce just enough people who can go on to university, and enough to go and fulfil menial jobs, usually unaware that they have potential to do whatever they want if they were taught in the right way.
There are a lot of scholarly articles around how to teach which vary based on subject- from anatomy to language, I’ve just read some articles and books and all of them focused on one key tenet- that the archaic system of standing before a classroom and talking without engagement does not work. Look too, to university where lectures can often be interrupted or punctuated with student to teacher discourse.
Let’s also look at the subjects we’re taught. I’ve been an atheist since I was 13, but had to learn PSRE until I was 16. And of course learning about theological ideas and the ideology around religion is, broadly, helpful in terms of understanding society- but I was never taught a class on politics or political discourse and I didn’t have courses in critical thinking until I was at college. In terms of the modern day I’m distraught I never entered into academia to study the intersection between politics and media- I studied media- because I didn’t think I was intelligent enough to understand politics. And yet here I am, after 6 years of holding my nose and quietly grumbling about politics, talking about it all day every day- internet videos, tweets, long whatsapp discussions, phone calls, and this very blog- founded on the lucky premise that what I do understand, I understand well. That knowledge, that surety, must be passed on en masse to the general public through simple, easy to grasp education around politics and wider discourse around the application of our own politics to the modern day.
If, for example, more people were educated on crime statistics in relation to refugees we would easier be able to move the discourse forward- instead of “more refugees equals more crime” we could skip the intro dialogue that, actually, the vast proportion of refugees do not commit crime, and the increase in crimes has on occasion been proven to be because native citizens have committed crimes against refugees- sometimes refugee on refugee crime, sometimes people committing crime against refugees- these things add to crime statistics. And yes, of course, more people in a country mean more people to perpetrate crime AND more people to have crime perpetrated against them. Man has, since the first time we stepped out of a cave and seen our neighbour doing the same, wished to enact violence on each other.
Think in depth about the isolation, stigmatisation and poverty that migrants face here and ask yourself whether you would be driven to steal to survive if you needed extra food because £40 a week didn’t fill your children’s stomachs. Ask yourself whether you would fight someone who called you a slur in the street after you lost your friend in a desperate journey to flee your home country and came to a place where people designate you scum just for the colour of your skin, your religion.
The overarching point of this is that education fails fundamentally to impart the gift of critical thinking and key aspects of knowledge on people who then go on to vote, unknowingly against issues they speak out against- from LGBT+ issues to the migrant “incursion” we aren’t suffering in the UK, ask yourself why people vote for harsh immigration policy then cheer Blair’s Iraq war as necessary -when that war itself destabilised the countries these migrants now leave to survive.
Also ask yourself why education never focuses on simple humanity- imparting on children at an impressionable age how important it is to imagine being in someone else’s skin, someone who is not like you, and imagine their journeys and struggles- from melanin to sexual preference and the intersections therein, from gender to sex, from ability or cognition, family situation and more. Education seems to be built to fill people’s heads with enough knowledge to contribute to the workforce and pay tax and not much else. It’s only by luck or perseverance that some come out of education desperate to continue their learning, to question society and political direction. And thank goodness for the outliers- but we need to create more.
The way we do this is not to gatekeep important information about political alignment, to obfuscate knowledge behind theory which is never explained, to sneer at those who don’t understand but who want to. We have to make knowledge accessible to the masses- lest the masses continue to vote unthinkingly for those who will chain them down whilst claiming the chains come from migrants, gays, socialists… and they will believe it.
How we go about changing the educational sphere in society I do not know. Speak more plainly, more openly is a start. But until a grassroots movement to overhaul education affects change, I fear that the roots of fascism will dig deep into a society blissfully unaware of it’s hulking weight bearing down on us.
Daviemoo is a 34 year old independent writer, radicalised into blogging about the political state of the world by Brexit and the election of serial failures like Trump and Johnson. Please check out the rest of the blog, check out Politically Enraged, the podcast available on all streaming platforms and share with your like minded friends! Also check him out on ko-fi where you can keep him caffeinated whilst he writes.