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11 January, 2006

Oi! Behave! (Not you, Tarquin)

Readers outside the UK mightn't be aware that the Prime Minister has launched 'the respect agenda'; in my view, the latest in a series of nebulous (vacuous?) government pseudo-initiatives intended to render the populace more compliant and to distract them from more important issues.

Whatever; the aspect I wish to highlight is one raised by Deborah Orr at the BBC website.

Contrary to the government's 'bottom-up' emphasis on policing an underclass, Orr sees a 'top-down' problem of the governing middle-class thinking they're somehow above social obligation. Those who have influence exploit it for personal benefit and to jump queues.

Outside a supervised playground at dusk recently, I watched as council workers, probably on very low wages, attempted to tell middle-class families that the playground had closed for the evening.
One by one the family groups demanded that an exception be made for them because they were special.
When dispensation was not forthcoming, two sets of pashmina-clad Kensington parents became angry and abusive in front of the children they claimed to be championing.
Orr's contention is that this becomes seen as the acceptable standard of behaviour, which trickles-down to the lower classes (a patronising concept, but probably fair), and that loutish behaviour is a symptom of this, not the cause. Targeting 'chavs' won't eliminate the underlying selective morality.

There was a similar example in The Register last month: Bill Robinson bullied customer service reps ('troglodytes', in his words) until he'd jumped the 5-week queue to have Sky TV installed, then blamed Sky for his failure to meet the technical requirements (no phone line). He was rightly flamed to oblivion on the letters page the following week, primarily for his disregard for the queuing system.

Deborah Orr comes to much the same conclusion:

...putting others before yourself is despised as nothing less than eccentric and suspicious behaviour.
That's where the respect has gone.
Those who ought to know better, don't – to the awful extent that they're never happier than when blaming others for their own failings.
Isn't that precisely what I'm doing right now? I can't deny (somewhat distant) membership of a middle-class 'intelligentsia'. Aren't I being a bit hypocritical?

I don't believe so – I'm an individualist, but that doesn't mean I regard myself as 'special' or better than anyone else. I joke with H about 'the proles', but that is just a running joke (well, mainly...). I'm not reticent about asserting my right to space on the roads, etc., but I'm asserting equality, not superiority. I don't queue jump.

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