If it’s anything like his last, it will be. The Road To Somewhere (2017) seemed to catch the mood of the nation at the time of its publication just after the Brexit vote. It divided Britons into “Anywheres” and “Somewheres”. The former were actors in the knowledge economy, beneficiaries of globalisation and committed meritocrats. Their identities were “achieved”. They had often worked abroad, certainly in London and always had a degree. The latter, by contrast, had “ascribed” identities. They were trawlermen in Aberdeen, housewives in Wrexham or cabbies in Wolverhampton. They had never left home, least of all for university. They belonged “somewhere”, not “anywhere”.
The pandemic has taught us that those who use their hearts and hands, those menial key-workers, are actually vital for society’s survival.
Goodhart’s new book develops some of these ideas and adds a few more. Head, Hand, Heart (out last week) is a plea for us all to recalibrate what we consider useful and successful. In a country where almost half of young people are setting off to university right now, he asks whether it’s time for us to reconsider if they should really all be going. Goodhart’s timing is again spookily prescient. He wrote the first book before Leave’s improbable referendum triumph, even though it reads like a manual for understanding why it happened. This time it’s Covid-19. The pandemic has taught us that those who use their hearts and hands, those menial key-workers, are actually vital for society’s survival.
We have come to value the “Head” too much. As the book says “cognitive ability has become the gold standard of human esteem”. We have lost our respect for work done by “Hand”. And that goes too for those who have the “Heart” required to be care-workers. Not just those providing paid eldercare, but the unpaid work of looking after our own children. A theme of both Goodhart’s books is how an educated elite sets policy goals which do not reflect the life-choices of many ordinary people. I think of my own sisters. One is a professional woman living abroad. A classic “Anywhere”. The other has never left our home town in Yorkshire. She works on the check-out of a local supermarket (where, coincidentally, she worked without any meaningful protective equipment during the early days of Covid-19), and does not want to exceed the 16-hours of work that would see her benefits tapered. She has no interest in the representation of women in board rooms. She does not see her career as part of an “achieved” identity. Her foremost concern is for her children and, now, grandchildren. Goodhart says that “voiceless” women like her have been ill-served by a “credentialed class” that has different priorities.
Goodhart’s book has a sub-title: The Struggle for Dignity and Status in the 21st Century. And I wonder if one answer to that struggle for dignity among those who don’t flourish in higher education can be found in another book also published this month. English Pastoral is the work of an author who definitely did not share the Etonian background of David Goodhart [it is reviewed by Charlotte Fairbairn in next month’s issue of Catholic Herald]. James Rebanks left school at 16 to work on his father’s struggling sheep farm in Cumbria. In his previous book, A Shepherd’s Life, he tells of how a good marriage and a lot of willpower took him to night school and, ultimately, to Oxford University.
Head, Hand, Heart (out last week) is a plea for us all to recalibrate what we consider useful and successful.
By many measures he is now what David Goodhart would call an “Anywhere”. Except that these definitions, though useful, are not apt for all life stories. Rebanks is also a believer in the value of “Hand” and “Heart”. He worries that globalisation has transformed farming into something his “uneducated” father and grandfather would not recognise, or at least, recoil from. A lot of what Rebanks says is not new. That agriculture has fallen prey to intensive practises that denude the soil of nutrients and the landscape of wildlife. But what makes his lament so persuasive is that he is not another eco-activist who grew up in suburbia and won’t be happy until the fells are re-wilded and meat-production banned. Rebanks is the real deal. A working farmer who does not sentimentalise life on the land, but does make you wonder if clever young men and women might enjoy working on it, rather going to university, en-route to the disappointment of a series of McJobs in one call-centre after another.
Together, both these books pose a puzzle for teenagers and the parents who play a major role in guiding their career choices. I look at my own children and feel a flush of embarrassment about my own “anywhere” prejudices. How much I quite enjoy explaining to people that Agnes is bound for Medical School, or that Gwen might be going to Oxbridge. And yet I know, as both these new books remind me, that a career putting “hand” or “heart” ahead of “head” may be just as rewarding. Predictably, this is where I make my pitch for the benefits of bigger broods. Surely, it’s easier for a parent of a large family to accept a child’s decision not to go to university, if the next one might, or the one before, did.
Colin Brazier is the author of Sticking Up For Siblings: Who’s Deciding the Size of Britain’s Families? (Civitas)
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