Long-read

The self-making of the British working class

Through self-education and political struggle, the 19th-century working class found its voice.

Helene Guldberg

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Emma Griffin’s Bread Winner: An Intimate History of the Victorian Economy provides a rich and detailed account of the lives of working-class men and women in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. It is also a testament to their determination, autodidacticism and striving for political freedom.

Griffin analyses almost 700 autobiographies – two thirds written by men and one third by women – all born into impoverished working-class families between 1830 and 1903. The writers were not entirely representative of the working class in Victorian and Edwardian Britain – not least by virtue of having written autobiographies – but their books do provide insights into the nature of work and home life in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They allow us a glimpse of the relentless toil and poverty of working-class life in 19th-century Britain. But they also show us moments of joy and glimmers of light, provided mainly by encounters with what English poet and cultural critic Matthew Arnold described, in Culture and Anarchy (1869), as ‘the best which has been thought and said’.

The restricted nature of working-class women’s lives

Despite Britain’s economic expansion during the 19th century, with wages doubling and gross domestic product (GDP) trebling, not to mention a ‘series of extraordinary inventions’, from trains to lightbulbs and telephones, working-class life was hard. ‘Large cities with their trams, railways and modern civic buildings might have signified the march of progress’, writes Griffin, ‘but they also housed large slum populations living in appalling squalor’.

Life was particularly precarious for working-class women. If they entered the labour market, their wages were rarely sufficient to live off. Most women were entirely dependent on the men in their lives – either their fathers or husbands. While many boys saw the end of schooling as a new and exciting chapter in their lives, it was very different for girls. ‘A girl of 12 or thereabouts knew enough about the world to know there was little but housework awaiting her outside the school gates’, writes Griffin, ‘and a sizeable minority of the female authors had viewed further schooling as their one and only hope for a more interesting life’.

Many working-class girls entered domestic service, which was sometimes unpaid. As late as the 1860s, girls as young as eight were working away from home in exchange for food and lodging. But even when they did receive a meagre wage, it came at a price. ‘In those days you just seemed to belong to the people you worked for and you did whatever they wanted,’ one former servant noted. Many domestic servants only got a half-Sunday off a week. Even then, some employers sought to dictate how and where that time should be spent.

Women also worked in the manufacturing sector. But apart from the textile industries in Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire and Scotland’s Central Belt – where for historic reasons women often operated the power looms and were paid on a par with men – many were not given the opportunity to operate complex machinery. ‘Elsewhere women were employed in box-making, packing and sorting, tanning yards and factories producing foodstuffs such as chocolates, sweets and pickles – all low-skilled and low-paid work’, Griffin writes.

As well as unrewarding paid work, working-class women were left with the drudgery of housework – ‘a daily round of collecting water, purchasing and preparing food, lighting and clearing fires, cleaning and repairing clothes and looking after children’. The one area where women were able to exercise some control and autonomy was in the budgeting and general management of domestic affairs. Trade-unionist David Kirkwood recalled his mother turning over her husband’s pay in her hands: each week, ‘she counted and took care of the scanty wages’. From that meagre sum, she ‘planned out the week’s need’. The ingenuity and resourcefulness of their mothers’ housekeeping was a regular source of pride for many autobiographers.

But no matter how good they were at budgeting, women were at the mercy of their husband’s ability and willingness to provide for the family. Some were engaged in seasonal work and faced long spells without employment. Others suffered from bad health, or had sustained horrific workplace injuries, and were unable to work. Socialist Arthur Collinson’s father had worked as a coach-builder until he lost his eyesight when Collinson was five years old. His family quickly descended into abject poverty. Other fathers blew a lot of their money on alcohol, depriving their families of enough to feed themselves.

Reform League supporters pull down the railings round Hyde Park, London, after the gates were closed to prevent them holding a meeting, 23 July 1866.
Reform League supporters pull down the railings round Hyde Park, London, after the gates were closed to prevent them holding a meeting, 23 July 1866.

Charlie Chaplin was someone whose childhood was blighted by parental neglect. His alcoholic father abandoned the family not long after Chaplin’s birth, and his mother suffered from recurring bouts of mental illness. ‘In his sixth year, as [Chaplin’s] mother sank further into hopelessness, poverty and depression, she took the decision to enter herself and her two boys into the workhouse. Thus began a decade of regular moves in and out of different Victorian institutions – workhouses, asylums, orphanages – for all three.’

Griffin explores Victorian commentators’ condemnation of the prevalence of heavy drinking among the urban poor. And she does draw attention to some of the failings of Victorian and Edwardian parents, but not to condemn them. Rather she wants to ‘open a space for reflecting upon the myriad difficulties they faced’. She adds: ‘Of course, some men and women struggled against the odds to provide a warm, safe and loving home for their families, but others did not.’

Love in the time of Victoria

In her 1991 book Love in the Time of Victoria, Francoise Barret-Ducrocq draws attention to Victorian middle-class prejudices about working-class ‘licentiousness,’ ‘heavy drinking’ and ‘moral depravity’.

Victorian London was primarily a port city and a centre of administration and culture, rather than a site of heavy industry and factories. Barret-Ducrocq writes: ‘Most members of the better-off classes – businessmen, financiers, merchants, rentiers, civil servants and members of the liberal professions – had only the most tenuous direct link with the working-class population.’ They saw the working-class districts of London as ‘festering dens of filth, crime and debauchery’. The ‘miserable and depraved mob’ was viewed as a ‘shame to the world’ and a ‘compromise to the civilising mission of the Empire’. The sections of society highlighting the ‘barbarism of the masses’ were philanthropists working for charitable organisations, agents of the state – health officers, Poor Law officials, and education commissioners – and ‘social observers like novelists, essayists, sociologists and journalists’, Barret-Ducrocq writes.

Barret-Ducrocq’s research drew on a wealth of private archive material, including love letters and testimonies, stored at the London Foundling Hospital. These sources had been provided by working-class women applying to place their infants in its care, and provide an insight into their mental torment. They knew they could not raise a child on their own. But a successful application would entail an agonising – and in the vast majority of cases, permanent – separation from their infant.

The admission procedure at the Foundling Hospital was draconian. Mothers of illegitimate children needed to show that they had become pregnant either through the use of physical force or had ‘given way to carnal passion’ only after a promise of marriage. The woman would have to supply evidence in the form of notes arranging trysts, love letters and farewell letters, and had to supply the names of relatives, employers, family doctors and parsons to corroborate their stories.

There were instances where domestic servants had become pregnant after being attacked. ‘The culprit might be a naval officer staying with friends’, Barret-Ducrocq writes, ‘a brother visiting his sister’s house, a nephew in residence for the holiday’, or indeed the master of the house. But the sexual relations between middle- or upper-class men and working-class women did not always include coercion. Many of the domestic servants were young, naive, isolated and lonely, and could be easily swept off their feet. ‘Walking in St James’s or Regent’s Park on the arm of a well-turned-out gentleman, getting love letters, being desired when you were really everyone’s slave’ might have been exciting enough to forget the risk of pregnancy, notes Barret-Ducrocq.

However, the bulk of the archive material shows that many women had ‘lovers of much humbler social background’. Most had consented to sexual relations after an extended period of courtship, and their stories are full of ‘small joys and great hopes, of wild laughter, impertinent pranks, silly deceptions’. Their life stories show ‘small oases of joy and relaxation which – however limited they may have been – modify the unrelieved miserabilism of our received image of the Victorian proletariat’. Victorians saw the ‘sexual depravity’ of working-class Londoners ‘as a threat to the moral, and potentially political, order’. But the voices ‘recorded in the Foundling Hospital’s faded blue files, the voices of the women applicants and their associates, sound with an entirely different resonance’.

Working-class women’s political activity

Despite the ‘oases of joy’ that could be found in young working-class women’s lives, housekeeping and motherhood dominated most women’s lives. In Bread Winner, Griffin quotes James Brady reflecting on the closed world of his mother, who rarely ventured beyond their immediate neighbourhood: ‘The cobble-stoned cul-de-sac, with its squalid row of shared privies in the middle, was her world from Monday to Sunday, a grey world of hard times and hard work, bringing up a family of five on a purse forever running empty.’ Another writer observes that, thanks to housework and the repeated cycle of pregnancy and childbearing, his mother had ‘slowly faded into a grey domestic drudge’. Many note that their mothers’ only regular outing was church on a Sunday evening.

By contrast the women who became involved in politics and self-education often stressed ‘how much the experience had done to broaden and add interest to their otherwise very restricted lives’, writes Griffin. Mrs Smith, a miner’s wife in the Rhondda Valley, lamented that the women in her village ‘feel sometimes that we are not living but just existing somehow’. However, finding opportunities to attend ‘beautiful lectures’ organised by the Women’s Co-operative Guild, which was established in the late 1800s to organise educational classes and political campaigns on women’s issues, including suffrage, ‘seems to uplift us and help us to carry on’. Another autobiographer, Mrs Layton, said the guild ‘brightened [her life] to such an extent that everything seemed changed’.

Nevertheless, a range of barriers existed that made it far harder for women than men to become politically active or engage in intellectual pursuits. ‘Low female wages coupled with the widespread need for domestic labour within families’, writes Griffin, ‘left women without the time, money or right to pursue their own interests and activities’. Cultural assumptions about women’s roles within the family made it harder for women to spend any time or money on themselves, and many were made to feel that pursuing their own interests was tantamount to taking food out of the mouths of their children.

Match-girls at Bryant and May's shortly before their famous strike, circa 1888.
Match-girls at Bryant and May's shortly before their famous strike, circa 1888.

However, some of the female writers in Bread Winner describe finding paid work, which opened a new and exciting world for them. Hatter Nellie Scott recalled the conversations she had with fellow workers. In one place, she worked with ‘a Conservative, an Irish girl, and some Radicals and Socialists and we used to have full dress debates. When we began someone would call “Parliament is now sitting”… and we would discuss everything.’ Another writer, Alice Collis, became involved in a strike over pay, winning herself and her fellow workers a 50 per cent pay rise, at a printing firm. ‘When we had fully recovered from the surprise of our success’, wrote Collis, ‘we formed a branch of the National Federation of Women Workers’.

Almost all the politically active female autobiographers relied on the active support of their already politicised fathers, and sometimes mothers. ‘Without family support, the extent to which work facilitated entry into the political sphere was much more limited for women than men’, notes Griffin. Only 13 per cent of the women autobiographers reported having been involved in some form of political activity, compared to 25 per cent of men.

Male political activism and autodidactism

Male adulthood meant economic and residential independence from parents. Work provided a gateway to the public sphere, introducing adolescent boys to new political opinions and ideas. Trade-unionist and MP Frank Hodges, for example, recalled the lengthy conversations he had enjoyed with one of his older workmates, ‘a geologist, a mining student, and a keen mathematician’, as well as the owner of a copy of Darwin’s Origin of Species. Through their long conversations, Hodges found himself ‘undergoing a mental revolution’.

Such experiences awakened in many a desire for further learning. Labour politician Herbert Morrison spent his Saturday afternoons in second-hand bookshops searching for ‘cheap copies of works on ethics, history, economics, and sociology’. Many autobiographers recalled attending night classes. ‘Indeed, it would be hard to exaggerate the significance of night schools, which were mentioned over and again by the male autobiographers’, writes Griffin. Most saw their elementary education as dull and irrelevant. ‘In their eyes, the end of school meant the start of work, and the true beginning of a man’s education.’

The ‘swinish multitude’

In Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), Edmund Burke warned against the ‘dire consequences’ of mass education: ‘Learning will be cast into the mire and trodden down under the hoofs of the swinish multitude.’

However, in A People’s History of Classics, Edith Hall and Henry Stead show that many British people with minimal formal education found numerous ways of accessing and engaging with the culture of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Hall and Stead draw upon working-class memoirs, autobiographies, trade-union book collections, factory archives and documents in regional museums to provide a detailed account of the influence of the classical past on working-class lives.

‘In the 18th century’, they write, ‘some autodidacts in lowly occupations succeeded in learning classical languages against the odds, while others accessed classical authors via increasingly abundant translations’. With the expansion of literacy and the growth of inexpensive publications from the late 1820s onwards, access to the Classics expanded very fast. Leeds-born Chartist Joseph Barker started work as a spinner at the age of nine. He would prop up books to read while he was spinning and, at 16, he started teaching himself Latin and Greek. Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War was particularly treasured among working-class readers. A young miner from Northumberland who was killed by falling coal in 1899 died with a copy in his pocket, the page turned over at Pericles’ famous funeral oration.

Hall and Stead are in no doubt as to the importance of the Classics for working-class men and women:

‘The classical world aided their careers, expanded their horizons, improved their rhetoric, informed their politics, alleviated their boredom, inspired them to read, write, paint, draw, sculpt, act, perform, teach, publish, organise trade unions, join debating societies, read the Gospel in the original or question the existence of God altogether.’

A familiarity with the Classics even deepened people’s sense of freedom. ‘To stay free’, write Hall and Stead, ‘requires comparison of constitutions, fearlessness about change and critical, lateral and relativist thinking across time and different cultures’.

Alexander Pope’s translation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, as well as Penny Magazine and Cassell’s Popular Educator, come up again and again in workers’ accounts of the first serious books and publications they read. Before the 1870 Education Act, which established compulsory education in England and Wales for children aged between five and 13, workers were mainly educated through non-Conformist and Dissenting Sunday schools, Mutual Improvement Societies, Methodist and Quaker ‘Adult Schools’, Mechanics Institutes and trade-union colleges. Museums in Britain, which were visited by a far wider cross-section of society than in the rest of Europe, provided important inroads into learning about the Greeks and Romans.

A People’s History of Classics overlaps in its use of sources with the groundbreaking 2001 book by Jonathan Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Class. Rose shows that the books recommended by the intellectual elites ‘brought aesthetic joy, political emancipation, and philosophical excitement’ to ‘readers farther down the social scale’, such as ‘colliers and millgirls’. Take Will Crooks, a Fabian and trade-unionist, who grew up in extreme poverty in east London. He came across a second-hand copy of Homer’s Iliad and was inspired: ‘What a revelation it was to me! I was transported from the East End to an enchanted land. It was a rare luxury for a working lad like me just home from work to find myself suddenly among the heroes and nymphs of ancient Greece.’

A London family with all their possessions in the street following eviction, circa 1901.
A London family with all their possessions in the street following eviction, circa 1901.

Like EP Thompson in The Making of the English Working Class, Rose explores the relationship between the evangelical movement and working-class self-education. ‘Though autodidact culture was nurtured by the evangelical revival’, he writes, ‘it also presented a challenge to evangelical ideology’. Evangelical Christians emphasised the Protestant outlook of the absolute authority of the Bible and humans’ direct relationship with God. Nonconformist sects ‘encouraged close reading, interpretive analysis, and intellectual self-improvement’. The expansion of literacy and critical engagement with ideas opened a new world for many. Circuit preacher Joseph Barker, born in the early 19th century, found – after his intellectual appetite had been whetted by non-Conformist teaching – that ‘theology simply could not compete with Shakespeare’. Shakespeare in turn spurred his love of poetry. Byron ‘intoxicated’ him, and Milton, Hobbes, Locke and Newton made him ‘resolved to be free’. ‘The measure of bondage’ placed on him by Methodism, Barker explained, ‘began to be exceedingly irksome to me, and I felt strongly inclined to throw off the yoke and to assert my liberty’.

The liberating power of culture was recognised by many workers – even those who were ‘badly or barely educated,’ Rose writes. The most pervasive form of mutual education ‘was, quite simply, reading aloud’. In many workshops one labourer would read aloud while the others divided the share of his work. Shared reading was also common in many working-class homes. One Welsh miner described with awe one workmate’s ‘impressive library of classical music’. These working-class intellectuals were ‘glowing with pride’ after having ‘drunk the wine of knowledge,’ he wrote. They felt as if they had been ‘exposed to something extraordinary’.

The contradictory nature of male employment

Like Griffin in Bread Winner, German mill-owner, philosopher and communist, Friedrich Engels, also explored the stultifying, but potentially liberating, nature of male industrial employment in the 19th century. In The Condition of the Working-Class in England (1845), based on Engels’ first-hand account of life in the slums and mills of Manchester, he wrote that working people’s quarters were ‘wretched, damp and filthy’, and ‘consequently no comfortable family life is possible’. In such dwellings individuals were ‘robbed of all humanity, degraded, reduced morally and physically’. ‘The potatoes which the workers buy are usually poor, the vegetables wilted, the cheese old and of poor quality, the bacon rancid, the meat lean, taken from old, often diseased, cattle, or such as have died a natural death, and not fresh even then, often half decayed.’

But in England’s large industrial towns, Engels also saw the birthplace of the labour movement. The ‘mightiest result’ of the Industrial Revolution was the emergence of a politicised working-class capable of transforming what Percy Bysshe Shelley – a poet much loved by working-class autodidacts – called ‘this wrong world’. It was in industrial cities that workers ‘first began to reflect upon their own condition, and to struggle against it’, Engels wrote.

‘Working men appreciate solid education when they can get it unmixed with the self-interested cant of the bourgeoisie’, continued Engels. Frequent lectures on scientific, aesthetic and economic subjects ‘are well attended’, he wrote, adding: ‘I have often heard working men, whose fustian jackets scarcely held together, speak upon geological, astronomical, and other subjects, with more knowledge than most “cultivated” bourgeois in Germany possess.’

During the early 1800s, working men, through strikes and lockouts, fought for wage rises and better working conditions. But their battles were not just confined to the workplace. They also demanded political reform and an extension of the franchise. It was during this time that Engels met Chartists who challenged the idea that it was the lack of working-class morals that led to their misery. Instead, as Chartist David Ross argued in 1842, it was ‘bad laws’ that have ‘effected this’. The Chartists campaigned for universal male suffrage and greater democratic accountability. The only solution to devastating poverty and hunger was the ‘attainment of the Charter’, Ross argued. It is only with more democratic say and accountability, he argued, that ‘labour will have its protection’.

The re-emergence of elitist ideas

In recent decades, a similar elite disdain to that shown by Victorian and Edwardian middle and upper classes towards the working class has come to the fore. There is little attempt by academic or cultural elites to understand ordinary people’s concerns and aspirations, or to recognise that working people have complex internal lives – just like themselves.

Admittedly, working-class people are no longer called ‘filthy barbarians,’ or the ‘swinish multitude’. Instead, they are described instead as ‘uneducated bigots’, who tend towards racism, misogyny and homophobia. Many who see themselves as liberal and open-minded have gone as far as trying to overturn Brexit, a democratic vote, on the basis that the working-class ‘did not know what they voted for’.

Yet, as Griffin, Hall and Stead show, like Rose and Thompson before them, it was through access to culture, autodidacticisn and gaining a voice in the political realm that workers were able to ‘live’ rather than ‘just exist’.

As Griffin puts it:

‘There is clearly something to celebrate in the enormous achievements of the working-class men and women who, despite being born to a class that was neither expected nor encouraged to contribute to the nation’s political life, overcame the odds and managed to do precisely that.’

Helene Guldberg is author of Reclaiming Childhood: Freedom and Play in an Age of Fear, and Just Another Ape?. Visit her website here.

Bread Winner: An Intimate History of the Victorian Economy, by Emma Griffin, is published by Yale University Press. (Order this book from Amazon(UK).)

A People’s History of Classics: Class and Greco-Roman Antiquity in Britain and Ireland 1689 to 1939, by Edith Hall and Henry Stead, is published by Routledge. (Order this book from Amazon(UK).)

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Comments

juliusB

2nd August 2020 at 8:27 am

I have frequently thought of how the freedoms and advantages of 20th and 21st century life in this country have been hard won by the working class and are now being used and frittered away by the influx of people from more backward countries.
Such people should be staying and fighting for improvements in their own country instead of latching onto the more congenial conditions created by the people of this and other wester countries.

Vivian Darkbloom

31st July 2020 at 9:31 pm

This article resonated with me. I have a great interest in the working-class literature which flourished in the 19th and 20th centuries, together with the better-known canonical authors and the lesser-known women writers republished by Virago and other imprints. My formal education ended with a couple of A-Levels and it’s only through reading many hundreds of books that I gained the ability to write fluently after absorbing the lessons of the greats and following the basic rules through osmosis rather than pedagogy. Oh, I was so ignorant when I left school in the 1970s. If I can do it anyone can, which is perhaps the inspirational point of this article.

It’s entirely possible to become educated under your own steam; it requires a fair amount of study but with the advantage that you are pursuing your own interests and can travel wherever these interests take you. Second-hand books are inexpensive enough to build a formidable library of your own over the years. You simply have to put aside the time to read them.

University nowadays seems little more than an expensive method of acquiring a certificate which the bearer assumes will provide them with a well-paying job in elite circles. Unfortunately there are only a finite number of elite positions and recent graduates who are unable to reach the top strata can expect only disappointment and disillusionment. It’s possible the recent street protests reflect this reality along with the realisation that the permanent New Normal exposes the possibility that they have been sold a pup. Why would you take on a huge debt just to be instructed in the same screen-mediated format as the Open University with none of the benefits of social interaction and physical networking?

Thanks for this article Helene.

Vivian Darkbloom

31st July 2020 at 9:36 pm

I’m really sick of being moderated for reasons I can’t understand. I’m off to smoke a fag and then I’ll repost my completely inoffensive comment with weird word breaks. Look, I’m at a loose end having lost my job. I am happy to be a human moderator over the weekend for a few quid.

Vivian Darkbloom

31st July 2020 at 9:45 pm

OK, I’ll split my comment into two parts, not that it’s anything special, but why should we bother if our comments are held until late Monday and then vanish into the memory hole? I’ve a suspicion it’s to do do with the length so here goes

Part 1: This article resonated with me. I have a great interest in the working-class literature which flourished in the 19th and 20th centuries, together with the better-known canonical authors and the lesser-known women writers republished by Virago and other imprints. My formal education ended with a couple of A-Levels and it’s only through reading many hundreds of books that I gained the ability to write fluently after absorbing the lessons of the greats and following the basic rules through osmosis rather than pedagogy. Oh, I was so ignorant when I left school in the 1970s. If I can do it anyone can, which is perhaps the inspirational point of this article.

It’s entirely possible to become educated under your own steam; it requires a fair amount of study but with the advantage that you are pursuing your own interests and can travel wherever these interests take you. Second-hand books are inexpensive enough to build a formidable library of your own over the years. You simply have to put aside the time to read them.

Vivian Darkbloom

31st July 2020 at 9:46 pm

Second attempt: This article resonated with me. I have a great interest in the working-class literature which flourished in the 19th and 20th centuries, together with the better-known canonical authors and the lesser-known women writers republished by Virago and other imprints. My formal education ended with a couple of A-Levels and it’s only through reading many hundreds of books that I gained the ability to write fluently after absorbing the lessons of the greats and following the basic rules through osmosis rather than pedagogy. Oh, I was so ignorant when I left school in the 1970s. If I can do it anyone can, which is perhaps the inspirational point of this article.

Vivian Darkbloom

31st July 2020 at 9:46 pm

Second part: It’s entirely possible to become educated under your own steam; it requires a fair amount of study but with the advantage that you are pursuing your own interests and can travel wherever these interests take you. Second-hand books are inexpensive enough to build a formidable library of your own over the years. You simply have to put aside the time to read them.

Vivian Darkbloom

31st July 2020 at 9:47 pm

Third Part: University nowadays seems little more than an expensive method of acquiring a certificate which the bearer assumes will provide them with a well-paying job in elite circles. Unfortunately there are only a finite number of elite positions and recent graduates who are unable to reach the top strata can expect only disappointment and disillusionment. It’s possible the recent street protests reflect this reality along with the realisation that the permanent New Normal exposes the possibility that they have been sold a pup. Why would you take on a huge debt just to be instructed in the same screen-mediated format as the Open University with none of the benefits of social interaction and physical networking?

Thanks for this article Helene.

Vivian Darkbloom

31st July 2020 at 9:48 pm

Third part revised: U niversity nowadays seems little more than an expensive method of acquiring a c ertificate which the bearer assumes will provide them with a well-paying job in e lite circles. Unfortunately there are only a finite number of e lite positions and recent graduates who are unable to reach the top strata can expect only disappointment and disillusionment. It’s possible the recent street protests reflect this reality along with the realisation that the permanent N ew N ormal exposes the possibility that they have been sold a pup. Why would you take on a huge debt just to be instructed in the same screen-mediated format as the O pen U niversity with none of the benefits of social interaction and physical networking?

Thanks for this article H elene.

Vivian Darkbloom

31st July 2020 at 9:56 pm

U n i v e r s I t y n o w a d a y s s e e m s l I t t l e m o r e t h a n a n e x p e n s i v e m e t h o d o f a c q u i r i n g a c e r t I f I c a t e w h I c h t h e b e a r e r a s s u m e s w I l l p r o v I d e t h e m w I t h a w e l l – p a y I n g j o b I n e l I t e c I r c l e s . U n f o r t u n a t el. y t h e r e a r e o n ly a f I n I te n u m b e r of e l I t e p o s I ti o n s a n d r e c e n t g r a du a t e s w h o a r e un a b l e t o r e a c h t h e t o p s t r a t a c a n e x pe c t o nl y d i sa p p o i n t m en t a n d d is i l l u s i on m e n t . It ’ s p o s s i bl e t h e r e c e n t s t r e et p r o t e st s r e f l e c t t h i s r e a l i t y a l o n g w i t h t he. r e a l i s a t i o n t h a t t. h e p e r m a n e n t N e w N o r m a l e x p o s e s t h e p o s s ib i l i t y t h a t t h e y h a v e b e e n s o l d a p u p. W h y w o u l d y o u t a k e o n a hu g e d e b t j u s t t o b e i n s t r u c t e d i n t h e s a m e s c r e e n – m e d i a t e d f o r m a t as t h e O p e n U n i v er s i t y w i t h n o n e o f t h e b e n e f i t s o f s o c i a l i n t e r a c t i o n a n d p h y s i c a l n e t w o r k i n g ?

T h a n k s f o r t h I s a r t I c l e H e l e n e .

Vivian Darkbloom

31st July 2020 at 10:01 pm

Oh that’s so stupid. Is this what we can expect from the New Normal? It’s like a Kurt Vonnegut story.

Travis Henderson

4th August 2020 at 8:42 pm

I’m really not surprised as you use expressions like “smoke a fag”, as in American gangster dialect that would mean to kill a gay. Please remember that the entire World is watching, anf his dog.

Vivian Darkbloom

5th August 2020 at 8:10 pm

How bona to vada your dolly old eek! Bleedin’ hell and god’s teeth what a malarkey squire! I’m gobsmacked me old mucker. Being from Blighty and all I never clocked that palaver till some random septic geezer set me straight. Snout it is for keepers and I’ll unpeel the old peepers. No troll back, nish! No yob, me. Fantabulosa ya ole lemon and cheery vents, hein?

Mor Vir

31st July 2020 at 4:51 pm

Cue Moxon…

Why the left h ates the working class, see the abstract below…

Vivian Darkbloom

31st July 2020 at 8:37 pm

He’s not necessarily wrong though, Mir. It’s just a bit, umm, monomaniacal. I’d plump for indifference rather than hate.

Christopher Tyson

1st August 2020 at 8:53 am

Not ‘necessarily wrong’ hardly a ringing endorsement. The saying goes ‘even a stopped clock is right twice a day’. Some take Moxon seriously or regard him as a harmless eccentric, those of us who have been on the receiving end of his bile, think differently, he has stated that his aim on this site is to see ME off personally.
Moxon’s argument are often biologically deterministic, this contradicts his fervent judgementalism, logically for a determinist ‘what is, is’ why make a fuss about it? You make a fuss about it because you can do no other, if everything is determined we are not ultimately responsible for anything, we quickly arrive in an absurd place. What Moxon is really saying is that their is a natural order, he believes that we are being driven from this correct path by assorted ‘leftists’ and identitarians. If you press Moxon on his views he will back-track or attack. For example he will say that he is not a biological determinist at all.
There is a naturalistic defence of capitalism, this is the idea that capitalism is the natural order of things, that it is in accord with human nature. Moxon goes further he believes that the very idea of capitalism is an invention of the left for their own nefarious purposes.
I once wrote this sentence ‘Moxon and various right-wing commentators’. Moxon quickly attacked me for, if not directly, indirectly including him in ‘the right’. My purpose was to separate him from them, but he is very sensitive about this, indeed he claims that neither the far right or the alt-right exist at all, for him this is leftist propaganda.
Not believing that there is such a thing as capitalism, for Moxon, class relationships are not economic relationships. Class relationships become tribal or cultural relationships, in this regard Moxon is closer to the cultural leftists and identitarians than he would care to admit.
Sub-ordinate or oppressed groups or classes have often identified with the interests of their ruling elites. Within capitalism in the UK for example we have had one nation Toryism re-worked by the Thatcherites to ‘share owner democracy’ and home ownership, we’ve had the welfare state, patronage and ideas of social mobility. Moxon like others is someone who adheres or at least advocates on behalf of working class, while identifying with the interests of the capitalist class. Moxon by denying the reality of capitalism also denies that he is political, charitably we could say that he is sincerely apolitical and defending what he sincerely believes to be the natural order of things, even though his anti-left obsessions, and his biological and naturalistic world view is unerringly similar to a far right critique.

Mor Vir

1st August 2020 at 1:47 pm

“Moxon’s argument are often biologically deterministic, this contradicts his fervent judgementalism, logically for a determinist ‘what is, is’ why make a fuss about it? You make a fuss about it because you can do no other, if everything is determined we are not ultimately responsible for anything, we quickly arrive in an absurd place.”

That is an interestingly lucid observation. It dovetails with my reading this morning, ‘Marx and the Problem of Nihilism’, which you can access by typing the jstor page address for the article (or any other article) into sci-hub [dot] tw, a very handy tool for accessing academic papers with a pay wall, and then clicking on ‘download’ (or right click, ‘save as’) to get the pdf for a clean display (my good deed for the day.)

According to Rosen, Marx’s historical view of human self-creation in history and of human needs and values as biologically or historically rooted, finds no place for any suprahistorical criterion or transcendental norms by which Marx’s view of history as the overcoming of self-alienation might have any ‘objective’ normativity. It is a process of human ‘coming to be’ in which an end state may be tended toward but the entire process is something that ‘just is’. Then, an end condition of ‘self-realisation’, communism, may ultimately be reached through the outworking of the laws of historical development but the ‘secularisation’ of Hegel denies any transcendental ‘justification’ for the process or the end.

It might be argued that Moxon is in an analogous situation in which he has only the ‘natural tendency’, which for Marx is outworked in historical self-realisation, and no transcendent norm that might ‘justify’ any condition, be it stable or attained.

Arguably the ‘problem’ can be observed all the way back to Aristotle, who proposed a teleology in which the being – human, plant, animal, whatever – tends toward an outworking of its inherent potentiality according to its ‘nature’; yet he also postulated a ‘god’ as the ‘final end’ to which all the lesser ‘ends’ are ordered. That is the medieval teleological worldview, ad maiorem Dei gloriam.

So, my question is “is ‘absurdity’ really a problem or does natural tendency suffice?” My own inclination (no pun intended) is that absurdity is OK, and it is unavoidable. True, there is then no transcendental imperative but likely we will just have to live with that. Possibly the ‘problem’ is resolved when the end condition is attained, society is harmoniously regulated without coercion, and no need is felt for any transcendental imperative; obviously that is naive but the possibility cannot be excluded just because it seems naive. If so, then the need is felt now, not because natural tendency does not suffice but because the tendency to self-realisation has not yet reached its end state – which is purely speculative, I am far too ‘cynical’ to endorse such a view lol.

I can see that jstor is going to keep me busy, I have also downloaded, the ‘Nihilism, Reason and the Good’ and ‘Aristotle’s Concept of God as Final Cause’ papers this morning. They may or may not be worth reading. Their library of papers is endless.

Mor Vir

1st August 2020 at 1:55 pm

* ‘transcendent’ was meant in every case and not ‘transcendental’ – no allusion to Kant was intended.

Vivian Darkbloom

2nd August 2020 at 9:32 pm

Whoops! I had no idea there was a beef going on here. Interesting. You’ll just have to duke it out, chaps ;). I have to confess that I don’t read Steve’s comments because they’re always on the same topic and I get what he saying, at least I think I do. Like you Christopher, I find his analysis deterministic and I’m not too keen on determinism.

Having said that there is little doubt in my mind that working-class voices have been sidelined and ignored.

Jim Lawrie

31st July 2020 at 11:43 am

Wax lyrical and romanticise that working class which is a safe century and a half away in the past.
What the present day British left have in common with their Victorian compadres is a shared contempt for the working class of their day. Especially the self-educated ones. By “the working class educating themselves” they mean trained to articulate their agreement with the middle class Liberals, while retaining a semblance of a working class accent to lend credibility and disguise the middle class message. That is why so many middle class lefties speak with their ridiculous idea of a working class accent. They think we are stupid.
Hence their utter dedication to the state as sole provider of education. Except to their children. They think us incapable of choosing what is best for ours, while they elbow their way into the best “state” schools or go private. We now see laid bare the culmination of that process, with teachers in working class areas refusing to go to work, but still expecting total control and receipt of the education budget. And more of it, to boot.
The contempt expressed by leftist teaching Unions for Charter Schools in The US, and for their massive waiting lists, tells us what really think of working class independence in education. It is no different in this country , as Joanna W described on here the other day – https://www.spiked-online.com/2020/07/29/keep-masks-out-of-the-classroom/

Time for education vouchers.

Christopher Tyson

31st July 2020 at 8:48 pm

You talk a lot about ‘we’ and ‘our’ but I don’t know who you mean. Maybe you mean all the various account names that you’ve used on this site. At least come clean about that and maybe tell ‘us’ what your politics actually are. You say ‘They think we are stupid’, I don’t know about ‘we’, but YOU are stupid, a stupid, sanctimonious, self-pitying, prolier-than-though bigot.

juliusB

2nd August 2020 at 8:20 am

Where – and who are the “teachers in working class areas refusing to go to work”?

Korina Wood

31st July 2020 at 11:42 am

We have lost three things and that has destroyed this Nation. The introduction of the Welfare State started it all and it has been downhill since then. Why have none of the governments in the UK over the past six decades not accept the evidence, it is clear to see. And even clearer how to correct it. But we get Interference and Incompetence from elected politicians and that will never resolve any of the issues we have.

Culture, Moral Values and Education. Fix those and we will be a nation again.

Travis Henderson

4th August 2020 at 8:48 pm

I beg to differ. It is inside toilets which are at the root of the degeneracy. This is because unconscious sense of smell determines 75% of whether people get on.

Linda Payne

31st July 2020 at 11:05 am

Then came the education acts which controlled what the working classes learnt; this is a lovely article which proves self education in the 19th century led to more knowledge than we have today

Mor Vir

31st July 2020 at 10:26 am

Ironically, people may be better schooled these days but their underlying intelligence was higher in the 19 c. Those ragged, impoverished workers had the equivalent of 14 IQ points on people today. Meanwhile, studies have shown that actual IQ scores have declined in recent decades in Denmark, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Finland and Estonia (CNN, 2018). Clearly the ‘improvement’ of the working classes is not unidirectional.

> The Victorians were smarter than us, study suggests

The Victorians achieved so much because they were cleverer than us, a new study suggests.

Reaction times – a reliable marker of general intelligence – have declined steadily since the Victorian era from about 183 milliseconds to 250ms in men, and from 187ms to 277ms in women.

The slowing of our reflexes points to a decrease in general intelligence equivalent to 1.23 IQ points per decade since the 1880s or about 14 IQ points overall, researchers said.

Actual IQ scores from different decades cannot be directly compared because people today enjoy better teaching, health and nutrition which would help improve their results, the scientists explained.

But the reaction times signify that the genetic component of general intelligence – which leads to the type of creativity and invention typical of the Victorian era – has been dwindling over the past century.

Dr Michael Woodley, who led the study published in the Intelligence journal this month, identified the trend by comparing reaction times from trials conducted by Victorian scientists against those carried out in recent decades.

Our declining intelligence is most likely down to a “reverse” in the process of natural selection, he explained. The most intelligent people now have fewer children on average than in previous decades, while there are higher survival rates among people with less favourable genes.

– Telegraph, 2013

Gerry Mander

31st July 2020 at 8:41 am

Today, most people are “working class” in the sense that they have to work to survive. Few are landowners of sufficient size to be truly independent. However, “thanks” to successive Tory governments, we have a new “upper class” who work for large companies, are paid lavishly and are under-taxed by our partial politicians who hope for some crumbs from these people’s table.
The West is rapidly going the way of previous civilisations which first become degenerate and then failed completely—we are currently in the degenerate phase, but collapse is not far away….

Dominic Straiton

31st July 2020 at 7:16 am

The franchise has been a disaster as the working class can be ignored for four and a half years at a time. The working class was much more effective when riot was the way to get what they wanted. Usually worked to. And im not talking about the middle class temper tantrums were witnessing today im talking about the Gordon riots or even the pole tax riot or when Wellington opposed the reform bill and had all his windows smashed. There is no way those working class would have put up with being replaced.

Michel Houllebeq

31st July 2020 at 4:45 am

This country was built on the struggle, pain, and hard work of the White Working Class spanning over many centuries to now be treated as second class citizens in their homeland – even their children are now not safe now in multicultural open borders UK.

Brandy Cluster

31st July 2020 at 4:50 am

It’s an appalling situation which leaves many people speechless. And the horrific demonization of white people as “privileged”. Well, here are just some of them enjoying the lavish privileges of being white: nobody cares a rat’s about any of this!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkEPh4lIo0Q

Michel Houllebeq

31st July 2020 at 4:55 am

Agree completely – only when the welfare system and relatively easy times was created (on the backs of centuries+ of intelligence and hard work) did we get open borders to the third world.

a watson

31st July 2020 at 9:33 am

Now betrayed by the elites in Parliament – especially the Labour Party.

a watson

31st July 2020 at 9:37 am

Is prejudice against the white working class, particularly males, being encouraged? It appears so by the Labour councils and Party in London. The BBC bias is blatant.

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