Wednesday, 7 September 2011


There's too much information out there for anyone to master it all. Maybe you're a scholar of New Testament Greek, perhaps you hold a doctorate in Nuclear Physics, perchance you are the most renowned authority in the world on WWII (if any of you guys are reading this blog, I'll be surprised). Whatever you are, you almost certainly haven't mastered all three of those subject fields. That doesn't make you an idiot. Could I offer a more condescending-sounding pat on the head? I haven't mastered any of those three either, kid. Shut up.

But there's some basic knowledge everyone has, right? No. Definitely not. I was a naif when I was at university. Nobody understood the Latin puns I declaimed (ok, mumbled) because no schools bar public (Americans, read Private) or a select few state (Americans, read Public) schools taught the damn' subject. Latin, I have to confess, is not the lingua franca it once was. So let me mention two things I have experienced today.

First, while driving home from the dentist, the DJ on Pure Radio this afternoon ran down the winners of the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing Show over the last eight series (it's currently on its ninth). One name was known to me, Kaplinsky, but none of the others made any headway into my head whatsoever. I can tell you that an MP and a delightfully whimsical journalist were in other bits of this show, but I haven't remembered anything else, because it's inarguably frivolous knowledge. "OK, so Bob the Gardener was in the TV show Blah, playing Bleh the Killer, and was unmasked by Fleh the Detective in the second series!" But who cares? Tell someone that Patrick Stewart played Jean-Luc Picard and they may well just stare blankly. Fair enough. Star Trek isn't for everyone.

What is for everyone? Perhaps democracy? "What's democracy, Pete?" Well, y'know. "No." It's rule of the demos, the city, the citizen body, the public. "Oh, ok." That vote thingy that our forebears worked so hard (or possibly murdered) for: that's democracy. So maybe everyone knows about it. "No." A few weeks ago I was watching a British quiz show. It's called Pointless. They give 100 people 100 seconds to name or link as many people or things as they can. A few weeks back, I was dismayed-cum-amused, as the surveyed audience generated the figure of 51/100. This was the number of people from the survey group who knew that Gordon Brown had been a Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer who served after WWII. Hell, the man was in the job for years, and subsequently became Prime Minister for a couple.

Maybe every adult you asked on the street should have known his name. It turns out that they don't. Sometimes I think I'm ill-informed, but then again I think not. I don't know all, but I'm aware that Gordon Brown preceded the current PM, David Cameron. I can even tell you boring stuff about Dave, because my newspaper is poor (despite being the last of the broadsheets). I can tell you stuff about Gordon for the same reason. So Gordon was unknown to the public. He had been Tony Blair's (I have to wonder if people are aware of him!) right-hand man for about a decade. "Pete, get to the point."

The point is this, my cynical chum. A few weeks ago 51/100 surveyed people knew that Gordon Brown had been a post-WWII Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer. That was really poor. This day a lady from Liverpool (and her suborned companion) was (or rather, were) asked to name a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer. I was embarrassed, as I could only think of Major, Lamont and Norman, and none older. They could not think of anyone. So she named Gordon Brown, remarking that she wasn't sure he was in fact Conservative. I'm thirty. She was clearly my senior, yet totally unaware not only of one of our Chancellors, but even of one of our Prime Ministers.

I quite like Xenophon and Thucydides, self-serving ancient Athenian oligarchs, who distrusted the ignorant poor/hoi polloi/the majority, but I don't want to replicate their preferred political system. It would be nice if my fellows in democracy were not to provide armaments to the descendants of the oligarchs.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...