The Nobel Prize-winning South African writercalled it “poverty of the imagination." In one of my favorite quotes, she describes it as a species of what we may call spiritual impoverishment: the kind of “weak faith” behind the Taliban’s and other terrorists’ resorting to suicide bombings and other kinds of violence to advance their political-religious aims.
This cognitive affective affliction – which Gordimer was associating with the plight of the world’s poor - is whatapparently suffers from. This is what the revelation yesterday of his unflattering, low-minded assessment of Americans on benefits suggests.
It suggests an ideological tunnel vision and inflexibility which, though probably not foremost in Gordimer’s mind when she spoke of some people’s “deprivation of the intellect, of the world of ideas," nonetheless falls within the scope of that predicament.
It is apiece with the mental and emotional (cognitive-affective) malnourishment of so-called “haves” which predisposes Romney and some other captains of commerce (England’s Adrian Beecroft and Surinder Kandola, America’sand Barbados’ Ram Rarchandani come to mind) to make simplistic separations between themselves and the so-called “have nots."
It is the ideological insolvency that assigns virtue to the financial and related risk-taking of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists but treats with contempt the risks routinely taken by pizza delivery and other drivers who expose themselves to traffic collisions, mugging, other violence, even death.
And I fear that the recently reported findings of a study by University College London linking “job strain” stress to the risk of heart disease, especially among less-skilled workers - whose roles are rooted in order taking and are deprived of decision-making options - will do nothing to change the simplistic, financier fossilized, fundamentalist views of such “haves” about who (to say nothing of the what, where and when) does the “making” and the “taking” in the labor-capital collaboration for production (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-1958452
That research team’s findings are not exactly new, are they? They merely reinforce the work done by Professor Sir Michael Marmot and others, the so-called Whitehall Studies, dating back to 1967.
As Wikipedia notes, Marmot “…challenged the myth about executive stress and instead revealed that, far from being 'tough at the top', it was in fact much tougher for those lower down the pecking order. This wasn't just a matter of rich or poor, or even social class. What Marmot showed was the lower your status at work, the shorter your lifespan. Mortality rates were three times higher for those at the bottom than for those at the top.”
So the presumably “low-skilled” Polish Domino’s Pizza delivery driver shot by Irish equivalents of Taliban terrorists in March 2009 could be construed as simply having his three times-more-likely-than-a-Domino’s-
In other words: The odds were against him outliving persons making decisions higher up the Domino’s fast food chain. It is possible that his Talibanesque demise merely precluded a more gradual Talibank “unskilled worker” fate that awaited him.
And let me note here my dismay at the fact that I have been unable to find that eastern European worker’s name in any news report on the attack that led to his death. (His then 19-year-old Domino’s colleague, Anthony Watson, is named.)
Might this be a reflection of the general treatment of some eastern European workers in the UK? Did he not have any identifying documentation on him at the time of his death? Couldn’t his employers at Domino’s Pizza supply such information?
I find this unfortunate detail sadly reminiscent of the fate of the Sudanese, Eritrean and other African workers being buried in anonymous holes outside a Sinai cemetery, as depicted in the deeply disturbing documentary “Death in the Desert," part of CNN's Freedom Project.
But I digress – if only slightly.
The deprivation of the intellect that Gordimer points to is not simply a deficit of cognitive skills. It is, at its core, at least partly about the simplistic pedagogical separation that the English Education Secretaryand others seem intent on making between the knowledge acquired in “formal," classroom settings and the soft, social skills that they seem to relegate to “informal” learning situations and processes.
From where I stand, Gove’s announcement on Monday of his conservative reforms to the secondary exam system in England will mainly serve to retrieve, preserve and expand upon such strategies of separating academic “haves” and “have nots”, as efforts to reform education in a more liberal, ideologically inclusive direction have not managed to show utterly outdated.
It will resurrect, preserve and perpetuate at the level of the school, the kind of elitist, establishment perpetuating stratification that apparently informs Romney’s understanding of the dynamics of the workplace – and that his program of “job creation” would probably perpetuate.
What Romney, Gove and other “haves” seem incapable of grasping is that intelligence is not best measured by the Bell Curve, Myers-Briggs, GCSE and similar work place and school-based tests.
Fundamentally, intelligence turns on the way we interact with each other: it’s best measured by our capacity to relate to others as to ourselves – if I may adapt a passage from the Bible that Mormons like Romney and all other Christians should be familiar with.
Romney’s deterministic dismissal of people on benefits – his Talibank thinking - suggests a degree of stereotyping, suspicion and negativity toward such persons that I am only too familiar with.
I think I see it in the eyes and hear it in the voices of some of the people I have had more contact with since July 4 this year, than I ever planned to when I moved to England. It’s in the eyes and in the voices of some people who are now deciding whether or not I am eligible for job seekers allowance and housing benefit.
The fact that this is the first time that I am seeking government funding since moving here more than six years ago (I arrived on July 4, 2006, coincidentally) seems to be of little consequence to some decision makers at Jobseekers Plus and similar bodies.
And the fact of my accelerated self-employed income earning efforts since being dismissed from the job I held for more than five years seems not to hold much weight either.
But I’m not complaining. I don’t have the time for that luxury.
I’m busy taking risks to advance my own welfare and that of my family and community.
I’m occasionally tempted to moan like Mitt Romney did to his wealthy supporters this past May. But I never do that for long. I’m more about making what lemonade I can of the lemons that life throws me.
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