Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Monday, 25 May 2009

Not Learning From Experience

The tavern’s regular day-time population has been temporarily increased by the presence of the Artful Dodger and an assortment of friends on study leave – which seems to be a euphemism for sitting in the garden consuming inordinate quantities of lemonade and ice cream.

In conversation with these youngsters about the recent expenses scandal, it emerges that, while admirably well-informed about the American electoral system and Catherine the Great, they have no knowledge of rotten or pocket boroughs, the Reform Act or Keir Hardie, let alone scandals like the Darien Adventure, and a fairly rudimentary grasp of Parliamentary history outside certain clearly-defined areas.

Not unusual, I hear you say? Well, no, not in general, but these are intelligent young adults who will, in the next few weeks, be sitting A level Politics and History, aiming for careers in journalism and the Law, and most of whom are preparing to vote on June 4th.

‘But it’s not on the syllabus’, they say. And if it’s not on the syllabus at University (for those who get there; as pupils at an above-average school for GCSE results, their chances of getting a place to read History have been drastically curtailed by Ed Balls & co – but that’s another story), then presumably they won’t hear about it at all.

Small wonder then, that our politicians seem to be stuck in an endless cycle of reinventing the wheel.


  1. What is spookier is that these days a very great deal is out there on the web. So it does not take long to find something about any of these many things. Yet all the media people and all the politicians are incapable of finding and reading it, let alone understanding.

  2. The problem here, as Donald Rumsfeld would say, is that we are dealing with 'unknown unknowns' - if you don't know it's out there, how do you know to look for it?

    As long as the sum total of, say, political experience could be taught from a book, there was some hope that an expert would have a sound grasp of the subject; the same, of course, applies to physics or engineering.

    The proliferation of information and our own narrow specialisation leaves us all vulnerable; if society as we know it came to a sudden end - supervolcano, asteroid, triffids; take your pick - how many of us could muster the skills needed to survive in a hostile environment?

  3. "..if society as we know it came to a sudden end - supervolcano, asteroid, triffids; take your pick - how many of us could muster the skills needed to survive in a hostile environment?"

    If the BBC remake of 'Survivors' was any example, the answer is 'Not many'.

  4. JuliaM; re surviving

    Of course there are good reasons for ensuring you don't survive a global disaster.

    Back in the days of 'Protect and Survive', my father flatly refused to consider any such plans at all, on the grounds that the only proper nuclear shelter in the area belonged to the local council, and he had no intention of emerging into a post-apocalyptic world populated exclusively by cockroaches and local politicians.