representation vs authenticity

I’ve been off Twitter for a couple of days but gather Owen Jones is under fire for his privilege again.  The right already defined what they thought of him, most notably back in July of this year.  But parts of the left, or maybe that’s the non-right, seem to be thinking similar things.

Maybe the dynamic in question is located around a growing faultline in modern democracy: a faultline that trembles between the representation which previous centuries of uneducated – even where intelligent – voting populations supposedly required of their institutions and the authenticity which a highly-learned society now demands of every public statement, position and actor.

That Owen Jones is articulate cannot be denied.  That he has a right to speak on behalf of the disadvantaged apparently can be.

And so the problem is that faultline I identify.  It seems entirely intuitive that someone who has suffered themselves the fear and reality of outright poverty will always better understand – better empathise with, even better fight for – another in a similar position than someone who has had all the advantages that a skew-whiff civilisation can offer.  But much like a native teacher of, say, English as a foreign language, who knows it from birth but is still unable to communicate the whys and wherefores to thirsty students of linguistic knowledge, the privilege of thinking time, of having the room and time and energy to think things through, a privilege which in fact often comes with the luxury of moneyed upbringings … this privilege I talk about frequently confers a broader perspective.  A wisdom, if you like, not out of education or certificates or time at university but – simply – out of the leisure space that allows for a contemplation we could all perform, if only our grinding lives didn’t take away our motivations.

If Owen Jones adds value to our society, it is because he is lucky enough to have the personal space (ie the privileged upbringing) I describe above – not to flaunt his privilege, not to do the “kool political solidarity bit” on the wrong (ie the “right”) side of the tracks, but rather to practise his freedom to contemplate.  It may be that he will never be authentically disadvantaged in what he says – nor in the pulpits he uses, which are clearly beyond the reach of the vast majority of us – but, at the very least, he will attempt – with the wordcraft he clearly possesses – to represent and transmit to the reading-public he attracts exactly what an oppressed and often (to them) invisible privacy of privation so many British subjects are now suffering from.

In his role of “mere” representative, it is true he is never going to be a revolutionary of democratic accountability.  But in this selfsame role of “mere” representative, he is representing many of us far better than our elected councillors and MPs are thus far managing.

So even if he can never be as authentic as that native English teacher so many so frequently pursue, he may yet turn out to be a far better teacher of that British sensibility for fair play than his manifest lack of authenticity would lead us to believe.

And if you still find it difficult to agree with what I’m arguing, try turning the argument around: if only the disadvantaged have the right to make their voices heard about disadvantage, are we then saying only the rich have the right to make their voices heard about what it is to be rich?

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