Monday, 14 January 2013

Selectively Breeding People

People have selectively bred animals for centuries and in the twentieth century the process was industrialised and was done on a far greater scale than before. Which is funny because exactly the same thing happened to the way we selectively breed ourselves.

Breeding used to be so rare you could boast about it, but nowadays every single one of us is bred for a purpose. Though, as you would expect for a system that works for people not dumb beasts, it's more sophisticated than mere genetics.  The significant inheritance, the one that decides our place in society, is linguistic.  Children bring the language and rhetorical skills taught to them by their parents to a place where it acts as a kind of software that programs their fate.  The place where the magic of this breeding program takes place is school.   Some children are lucky enough to be born into homes where their parents speak eloquently on a range of topics; they are the native speakers of Middle Class English. Others are not so lucky and they are raised speaking a language that's different, and ridiculed. When these groups of children meet at school they are judged by how “well” they use MCE, immediately and constantly.

Children in the program are stacked vertically. For those fluent in MCE, affirmation comes early and often, and they are told throughout their childhood that they are better than other children. They are the top. Apart from for an unlucky few, who become the focus of the other children's resentments, school is an excellent experience, which makes them happy and confident, secure in the knowledge that when it comes to being in the world, they've cracked it.

The children in the middle are the largest group and for them the program is tolerable. These children are not the best academically, but they're not the worst either, and for them the biggest issue is that school is boring, as it offers no chance to shine. It's with this group of people that the X-factor fantasy is so potent. That someone living an ordinary life, which is heavily trailed as being dull and unfulfilled, can be shot to riches and stardom, not through hard work and study, but through a previously undiscovered, innate talent.

Having a top casts an ugly shadow, and it falls on the children at the bottom. At the top school is a heaven of praise, at the bottom it is a hell of inadequacy. Imagine spending every day being asked to produce work that proves how much worse you are than everyone else, how humiliating that must feel. Evidently it's a worse punishment than the ones dished out for doing no work at all.

The top are bred for a positive, proactive desire to do as they're told, until such time as they can give the commands. The middle are bred to do a half-arsed job at something they don't really care about, and live under a barrage of products that purport to convey a status never granted to them when they were young. The bottom are bred for defiance and hostility towards authority, they are bred to think less of themselves, they are bred for sadness. This systematic assault on self esteem often causes problems at home, which schools recycle into excuses for their failure to produce from these children, citizens worthy of respect.

Selectively breeding people. Something, if social mobility statistics are anything to go by, we're getting better at.

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