Sunday, 3 June 2012

creating divisions

i've been reading about the protests at auckland university with sadness.  given i have a vested interest, particularly as regards the safety of someone close to me, it was pretty alarming to read about police tactics that were unnecessary and possibly not even legal.  it's difficult for students to be protesting about this at this time anyway, because exams are about to start and they are under considerable time pressure.  but they have been brave enough to stand up for what they believe in, and i applaud their efforts.

while there's a lot to be said on the topic of cutting student allowances for post-grad students, the one argument that really annoys me is the one, most recently used by mr joyce, around the fact that truck drivers and workers at macdonalds shouldn't be having to pay for the post-graduate education of privileged kids.  or some other variation on this general theme.

for a start, it nicely sets up one section of society against another and creates the kind of division that is so loved by the national party.  we see it in beneficiary-bashing, we saw it with dr brash trying to convince us that maori were somehow getting some kind of special rights unavailable to the rest of us, we saw it with the anti-refugee policy around "boat-people" who are in no way a threat to our country.  if we're all busy hating each other, then we aren't so busy seeing through the government spin and the very real and long-term damage those policies will cause.

it also fosters a mentality where we think only of our own personal and direct benefit, without any consideration of how we might benefit others.  because we aren't supposed to care about anyone else, we aren't supposed to care about the collective benefits and the overall good, which gives us a better society even though we might not directly and personally benefit from a particular policy.

but more than that, it's just plain stupidly wrong.  why should a poor worker pay for someone else's education?  simply because that someone else will become a taxpayer of the future, will be able to contribute tax at a higher rate given the access to higher paying jobs that an education provides, and those taxes will help to fund the health, education, and (if needed) the social welfare benefits of other people in society.  that's one direct benefit, and it involves a mentality where we realise that we all have to look out for each other, that when we work collectively to support each other, that everybody benefits, in one way or another.

also, that education has more than financial benefits.  a better educated society is a society with fewer health problems, fewer social problems, and a society where the people are less likely to be exploited and more likely to engage with democratic institutions.  those who are educated are able to increase our understanding of ourselves and find solutions to our problems.  they contribute to our body of knowledge, and to innovation.  all of these things benefit the truckdrivers and the cleaners and other workers.

and finally, just because someone is working at a job which doesn't require a post-graduate education, whose to say they won't have kids or spouses interested in post-graduate studies?  whose to say that someone close to them will directly benefit from the funding that was available, but will no longer be?

it seems to be an increasing right-wing attitude that education is somehow a bad thing.  and we write off the well-educated as "not living in the real world" as if they don't live on the same planet and undertake the same basic activities that we all do.  or that live in "ivory towers", as if their research doesn't involve going out in the field, talking to all kinds of people.  as if their children don't go to school, as if they don't do grocery shopping or interact with the health system, just like everyone else does.

and there's a particular reason for writing off those with academic qualifications: it's so we dismiss the evidence they present us, so we turn our backs on the research that provides us with better options.  if there's one thing this government has shown, it's a propensity to dismiss expert advice, particularly in the field of education (national standards, anyone?) but in other fields as well.  it's much easier for them to do this when we all have a healthy contempt for anyone who is educated, who spends the majority of their life studying a subject, coming to grips with the issues and looking for the best solutions based on evidence.

so i wish the students good luck with their protests.  and urge more of the staff to get involved as well.  this is nothing short of a direct attack on our academic institutions, to weaken and undermine them for a specific political purpose.  it's appalling.


Lucy said...

I worked in McDonalds as a student. Working in McDonalds and getting an allowance for postgraduate study are not mutually exclusive things, even a little bit.

And I'd think it's the children of truck drivers and minimum-wage workers, as well as people in those jobs who want to continue or begin study, who benefit most from the availability of support for postgrad work - what's Joyce suggesting, that if your parents (or a good job you have yourself) can't pay for it, you don't deserve to do it?

Anonymous said...

Call Me Clint

I'm a long time reader, first time commenter. And you raise the point that true left wing thought requires a focus on the total utility generated (collectively) rather than whether an individual (or particular group) benefits/loses.

The logical extension of that, however, is that a lot of the "niche" politics espoused on this website would be ignored. You'd focus on creating omelettes and a lot of LGBT etc. eggs might get broken.

So be careful when you talk about "the greater good", because you then open yourselves up to policies that might seem unfair - hell, we could justify slavery if the loss of utility from a loss of freedom from the target group (say Chinese people) was less than the gain from the rest of the people who now have free home help.

So, yes, collective good is good, but it's not everything.

Alex said...

@ Clint- I think its pretty that the greater good doesn't include slavery, there is no need to be so facetious in response to a well argued post.

Anonymous said...

What a load of rubbish. Left wingers create dichotomies far more that right wingers - class analysis is based on setting up various societal groups in opposition with one another. Right wing philolosophy is based on the contention that everyone is equal under the law and should be treated alike.

Right wingers don't dislike education. They just don't believe others should have to pay for it. An education is an investment in yourself. There may be some positive externalities to society, but on the whole, the benefits flow back primarily to the individual.

If you are going to attack right wing ideology, fine. But don't set up ridiculous straw man arguments in the process.

Anonymous said...

"Right wing philolosophy is based on the contention that everyone is equal under the law."

Correct. And in contrast, left wing philosophy is based on acknowledging this ISN'T the case, and aims to help the structurally disadvantaged. The aim being, of course, the construction of a world where everyone is equal.

The right wing just assume it's already like that (usually because they're blinded by their own privilege or bootstrap mentality) and create laws which fail to acknowledge the unequal reality of life for most people.

Right wing philosophy acts in response to some ideal world, but it fails to understand that we don't live in real world.


Anonymous said...

Also "There may be some positive externalities to society, but on the whole, the benefits flow back primarily to the individual."

WRONG. On the whole, well educated people earn more and therefore contribute to the tax intake more than their uneducated counterparts. It's a simple cost-benefit analysis; investing in education helps society advance (arguably more so than it helps the individual).


stargazer said...

@ lucy: i had that first point you made in my head & forgot to put it down, so thanx for raising it.

@call me clint: re your point about slavery, in order for you to prove that slavery is for the "greater good", you would have to a) exclude the well-being of the slaves themselves from your analysis and b)exclude any considerations of human rights & natural justice. and once you do that, you don't have much of a case at all.

@ anon: i think "me" has dealt with your points quite well. "class analysis" as you call it, isn't created by left-wingers. social strata are in fact created by the elite, to ensure they continue in their elite status and control who can move into the group and who can't. and when you say "on the whole, the benefits flow back primarily to the individual", you fail to recognise the impact those indidviduals will have on society as a whole, and how society as a whole benefits from a whole heap of more educated individuals within it.

@ me: the only thing i'd disagree with in your comments is that the aim of left-wing philosophy being to create a world where everyone is equal. i'd put it a bit differently, but maybe it's just splitting hairs. i'd say it's about a society where everyone has equal opportunity, regardless of who they were born to, and where we value things a lot more equally ie a lack of elitism.

Anonymous said...

And the fact that people who are educated earn higher incomes is precisely the reason why the general populace ought not be forced to subsidise them!

Aside from the fact that you are wrongly characterising tax yield as an externality (here - I know you love education as much as I do; you might learn something: you're also assuming assuming that there direct connection between tax take and how educated the populace are. That is patently wrong. Tax take depends on a country's GDP. In Soviet Russia, education was free for all - but the country eventually went bankrupt. Many people studied up to masters level and beyond. Obviously, this did not increase the resources available to the government.

Tax take depends on prospering business, productivity, efficiency gains and the state of the world economy (as this affects aggregate demand).

I find it kind of hilarious watching these middle class, privileged kids rocking up to protests under the guise of promoting social justice. They really just want more beer money.

stargazer said...

anon, can you please use a handle as requested by our policy.

And the fact that people who are educated earn higher incomes is precisely the reason why the general populace ought not be forced to subsidise them!

even though the taxes paid on those incomes help to provide social benefits to everyone. and i would have thought that tax takes depends on the tax rates in a country. the reason our country is floundering now is because of tax cuts that we couldn't afford.

I find it kind of hilarious watching these middle class, privileged kids rocking up to protests under the guise of promoting social justice. They really just want more beer money

condescending much? i doubt those same students would feel much for you other than pity. and the point is that by cutting allowances, the children of the less well-off are locked out of higher education. they are fighting for the rights of others as well as themselves. you? are just exactly showing the kind of hate and division i talked about in my post. thanx for proving my point for me.

Brett Dale said...

People should have the right to protest on what ever issue they want to.

No one should be allowed to stop someone else from going about their daily business.

The Police were removing people from a public road, if they werent causing traffic issues, then they wouldnt be removed.

You stand in the middle of the road I support the police removing you.

The police did nothing illegal here.

In terms of paying for someone else's education, well a slong as they sign something stating, they wont go overseas once they got their degree and they wont charge the public an arm and a leg for their services, then fair enough.

stargazer said...

brett, unfortunately the law isn't on your side. i'd suggest you have a read through the comments on this post at the standard:

once you've read through it and educated yourself, you might realise that what you believe or support has no basis in law. this can also be proved by the fact that vast majority of those arrested were not charged.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
stargazer said...

anon, if you refuse to abide by our policy, then we refuse to have your comments on this site. we don't need to justify our policy to you.

Brett Dale said...

Stargazer, I don't go to the standard anymore because of the vile comments their posters wrote about 9/11 on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

I would just say, I support the Police removing anyone who is sitting in the middle of a main road (or any road) for that matter during peak hour traffic.

If they (the students) expected to stay there and not be removed, then they are delusional.

stargazer said...

well brett, if you want to stay ignorant that's your business. but it's my business if you want to spread that ignorance here. if you'd bothered to listen to the protestors, you'll find they were sitting on the road only because of the actions of the police. had the police left them to carry on with their peaceful protest, as they have with so many other protests, then it would have been over well before peak traffic time. the police weren't wearing named badges, which against their rules. they created this confrontation, and did so in a way so as to avoid any accountability for their actions. and the state is supporting that.

Anonymous said...

@stargazer - yes I completely agree. I should have worded it like that to begin with.

@anon without a handle - a higher educated person is likely to earn more and people who earn more pay more tax. what part of that don't you understand? and all these other factors like "prospering business" do you think they just run themselves? people actually generate business. people actually generate the prosperity of society. and it helps an awful lot if those people are educated.


katy said...

Interesting that this came at the same time that it was announced that all registered teachers will need to have a postgrad qualification now.

Wenis said...

OMG, you deleted all my comments! Pathetic. Were you worried that I was making you look economically illiterate?

"class analysis" as you call it, isn't created by left-wingers. social strata are in fact created by the elite, to ensure they continue in their elite status and control who can move into the group and who can't."

I call it "class analysis", because what you're propounding about "social strata is a theory". You've basically snuck the premise into your argument that social strata create by the elite exist in fact, when what you're actually putting forward is a theory, of which empirical proof is impossible.

Actually, all these notions of elite groups further entrenching the power they hold reminds me of something else. It reminds me of those nutjobs who believe that the world is controlled by reptilian humanoids. You're not one of those, are you?! Coz you kind of sound like it. :p

stargazer said...

@ wenis: what's pathetic is your childish foot-stamping & petulance when asked to follow a couple of simple rules. there's no need for us to put up with that.

and as for being afraid of economic arguments, i've yet to see you post one. all you seem interested in is petty insults, which are yawn-inducingly boring.