on nursing a grudge against the professions

I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating.  Read this from Paul today – you’ll see what I mean:

You might think the government’s plans for new legislation, allowing workers to be sent to prison as a cover for the failures of management, would bring some kind of outraged reaction from the left.  Yet two days on from the gleeful announcement that doctors and nurses may end up in Wormwood Scrubs, there’s been no such reaction.

He then asks why – and gives an explanation (one, incidentally, I share totally) (the bold is mine):

As Chris at Stumbling and Mumbling has repeatedly set outover the years, one of the enduring myths of modern capitalism is the efficacy of managerialism.   Here, that myth is taken one stage further.  Instead of an acknowledgment that the rise in very poor care in the NHS correlates closely to the rise of managerialism in the last 30 years* (and the corresponding decline in standards once maintained by professional ethic), we get a scapegoating of the workforce: the message that, because even strict quality managerial targets have not always been met, then management has no option but to go one step further, and invoke the law.

I couched the issue a year or so ago over at 21st Century Fix in the following terms:

  1. Politicians are the least professional of all the professions – show me, do, if you will, the career path, the qualifications and the continuous training they all take part in (not).
  2. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, firemen and women, social workers, the police and assorted scientific and military minds out there are all used to dealing with evidence-based mindsets – they exchange their opinions in the frameworks of data (as a rule).
  3. Meanwhile, whilst all the above is doing its stuff, it’s clear that top-flight political operators, the ones that define what the rest of us must do, tend more and more to reach the zenith of their careers by hiding from the public what they had previously promised to deliver – hardly the actions of those likely to inspire the most admiration from the rest of us (I hope you agree).

So what is the point of all this?  Two responses come to mind:

  1. The psychology: when you know, even intuitively, that some other sector of society is better versed in the ways of the world, you’re hardly going to give them the leeway they probably deserve.  Who’d really want to get into an argument on health with a health expert?  Or on education with an educationalist?  Experts in fact, all of them for sure, who are highly unlikely to want to pay attention to any flowery and fuzzily intelligent rhetoric of the media-beloved declamatory.  Better, far better, to imprison the pesky souls – or to threaten them with the possibility – than to take them at their word and try and debate with them, from a position of manifest intellectual disadvantage, in the context of their own familiar battlegrounds.
  2. The strategic value: dishing the real professions as violently as this provides the government, any government, not just this government (and that’s the problem – the bitter pill we have yet to properly swallow), with the mechanism it needs to deflect the voters’ attention from its own lack of true appreciation and understanding of 21st century life.  That such 21st century voters now come out of several generations of highly educated societies has not been accommodated by democracies anywhere, much less by our democracy’s actors and hangers-on.  No wonder they want to kick into touch the prestige of the professions.  On top of all the problems an already cleverly-connected populace poses, we now have the aforementioned professions venturing proactively into the fray.  No one – least of all a politician without a recognised professional background to support his or her right to be – would want to fight on that kind of front if it could at all be avoided.

Paul and Chris have rightly and consistently pointed out the lacra that is managerialism in all its full-blown glory.  But with the latest evidence to hand – and we must pursue and defend such evidence before our politicians sink it without a trace – it is painfully clear that our objections to managerialism mustn’t base themselves only on the technical grounds of clever people such as Paul and Chris.  Our objections to the plague we should all refuse to culture should extend to the impact it has on everyday lives.  For if we are now to shift the burden of responsibility for failure from managers unable to manage, with all the resources in the world, to workforces unable to work, with few of the tools they used to have, and we are to propose blaming the latter for the horrible state of affairs a manager’s empire-building doth veritably lead to, as a society we really ought to be doing more than wringing our hands and threatening our professionals – that is to say, ourselves – with the clink.

The real question runs as follows: if the workers are to be blamed for the failures of a system, what the hell will the managers be blamed for?  What will be left?  What responsibility will a manager actually be required to shoulder?

This isn’t an idle question.  From banking CEOs who escape all criminal charges and culpability for the supposedly exposed – and consequently well-remunerated – posts they occupy, it seems we are moving hurriedly along to defending the legal and job security (perhaps with the intention of sustaining the unlimited loyalty too) of the next echelon of managers wishing to divert public attention from their dreadful inefficiencies.

So if a CEO doesn’t have to go to prison, and if a middle-manager doesn’t have to shoulder responsibilities, and if a lowly worker has to run the gamut of poor pay, evaporating pensions, deprofessionalisation and eternal executive turf wars, what on earth, who on earth, where on earth would anyone care to work in a world where you have none of the rights and all of the responsibilities?

All these clever people nursing such terrible grudges against the professions.  To such an extent that they nurse grudges against even the least sophisticated of the populations who find themselves struggling under so much inept command and control.

The problem, of course, is that – in some way or other, compared to say a hundred years ago – we’re all professionals now.  And that makes us all potential enemies of the terribly, sadly, defiantly unprofessional.  Whether they be self-made politicos or intuition- and hunch-blessed corporate climbers.

That, my dear friends, is why they nurse a grudge against all the educated.  That, my dear friends, is why the threat of the clink is becoming our destiny.

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