From the South Park episode Chickenlover…
I used to love South Park in the late 1990s. The first twenty minutes of the film represents some of the funniest comedy ever made; I recall weeping with laughter at the old Colchester Odeon. Here’s Cartman at his foul-mouthed best…
But ‘authoritah’ is much less important than victimhood these days.
It is no secret that I dislike the BBC and if you do a search for ‘Mike’s Place WordPress BBC’ you will find lots of references. FYI – if I had known that there was a swingers’ club in Brisbane called Mike’s Place I would have probably given this blog a different name. Ho hum. But I make two exceptions, firstly for their football coverage; unlike most of the media, the BBC don’t just concentrate on the big clubs (the Telegraph even has a section called ‘The Big Six’) but reports on all league clubs’ matches. My second exception is the excellent BBC History Magazine.
One of the most nauseating aspects of modern identity politics is the whole ‘victimhood’ scam – I should get more today because my ancestors were so oppressed. As someone who has spent his life studying and teaching History, it does seem to me that inequality has been the lot of the human race since the first civilisations emerged in the fourth millennium BC. The rulers of Ancient Egypt squandered the surplus of an agrarian society on monuments to their own hubris, aristocrats in the Roman Republic were so rich that men like Marcus Licinius Crassus could pay for an army of 50,000 men from their own pockets and the cathedrals of Medieval Europe were built with hundreds of man-centuries of labour whilst ordinary people lived on the edge of subsistence. I doubt there is any group whose ancestors have not been oppressed or enslaved over the past six thousand years.
One does not need to be a Marxist to believe there is some element of truth in the observation from 1848 that…
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”
British history is filled with examples of working class people demanding better treatment from their rulers – the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, the Levellers in the War of the Three Kingdoms (usually known as the English Civil War) , the Chartists in the nineteenth century and the birth of the Labour Party in the early twentieth century. And who today speaks for the British working class? I deliberately do not use the phrase ‘the white working class’ because I believe that a white working class person has more in common with a black, Asian or whatever working class person than with a rich white person (see This Is What I Believe). Again I ask, who speaks for the working class? The Labour Party has been completely taken over by wealthy, privately-educated, Oxbridge PPE clones who are completely indistinguishable from their Tory opponents – it would be easy to imagine the oleaginous Keir Starmer in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet and vice versa. My inner Robespierre is straining at the leash again.
In the December 2020 issue of the BBC History Magazine (the front cover of the magazine is the header picture for this piece), the historian Ian Mortimer wrote an excellent piece called The best of times… the worst of times about inequality in early nineteenth century Britain. He starts with life expectancy of different classes. In the 1830s, middle class Londoners could expect to live to 44 but working class people to only 22. Working class people in Liverpool and Preston on average reached just 19, whilst in Ashton-Under-Lyme an ordinary person’s life expectancy was only 13! Working conditions in many jobs contributed to poor health and premature deaths – most workers in the grinding industries of Sheffield were dead by the age of 28 and 90% did not make it to 40.
A skilled man (and in those days in would be a man) would be lucky to earn 15 shillings (75p) a week. By contrast, the finest London hotels would charge 3 guineas (£3.15) for a standard menu and another guinea (£1.05) for a bottle of wine. Most upper class people did not work at all whilst some agricultural workers in Berkshire spent 8s 3d (41p) out of their weekly income of 8s 6d (43p). An ordinary gentleman with an income of £2,000 a year could afford a country house and a townhouse in London; fashionable ladies could spend £4 on a single feather for their hats – enough to feed a labourer’s family for ten weeks.
As well as low life expectancy and low wages, the poor had to put up with appalling living conditions. Whilst most gentlemen had inside toilets and some even had hot and cold running water, the homes of the poor were absolutely dreadful…
“…especially in the rapidly growing industrial towns. In the parish of St Giles in London, a surveyor visited a slum terrace and found the yard ‘covered with night soil from the overflowing of the privy, to the depth of nearly six inches, and bricks were placed to enable the inmates to get across dry shod’”
“Inspectors frequently reported similar conditions in the northern towns. In parts of Liverpool, people were crammed into court houses at a density of more than 1,000 people per acre. Liquid from cesspits and the foetid rubbish strewn across the ground outside oozed through the cellar walls where many were forced to sleep. The communal cesspits in the courts had no doors as the landlords claimed they would have been used for firewood.”
In a time when many complain about slavery, the tale of Robert Blincoe is instructive…
“He was born in London in 1792, orphaned at the age of four, and placed in a workhouse. From there he was sold at the age of seven to the owner of a mill near Nottingham. For the next 14 years he was required to work without pay for 14 hours a day, six days a week, on the spinning frames, in dusty conditions. His clothing was minimal; he was not given soap to wash nor was he fed properly. He started stealing doughballs from the mill’s pigsties but the pigs soon became wise to his pilfering and threw them in the mud when they saw him coming. He suffered from constant diarrhoea, was regularly beaten, and like all his young colleagues, he lost parts of limbs in the unguarded machines. One day he watched in horror as a girl his age was dragged into a spinning machine by her skirts. He heard her bones all snapped by the whirling mechanism and then her blood “thrown around like water twirled from a mop”. Later, he tried to run away from the mill but was quickly caught and returned, with a reward being paid to the man who found him.”
Whilst on the subject of slavery, Mortimer points out that infant mortality for workers in places like Liverpool and Preston was almost exactly the same as those for slaves in the West Indies.
History is a complex subject. It is not a place for simpletons to parade their virtue nor for idiots to claim victimhood status because a remote ancestor had a hard life. If the facts presented by Ian Mortimer are anything to go by then the ordinary working people of the UK have many reasons to feel aggrieved about the treatment of their forebears by the rich. It would a fascinating study to find out just how many of the descendants of the slave holders who were compensated to the tune of £20million (or 40% of government spending at the time and equivalent to £2.4billion today) are still in positions of power. Any so-called reparations for slavery should be paid by the descendants of slave holders not the descendants of people living at the very edge of subsistence.