Thursday, 19 August 2010

Social Mobility Myths (2010)

The basic argument here is that lower-class people are less intelligent than the middle-class and, so, less motivated to succeed; hence, their relative failure. However, this argument is based purely on IQ tests that also - apparently - prove that Blacks are less intelligent than Whites. Despite the author's championing of motivation as being very important to one's life chances, he does not factor to this into the results of IQ tests to make it appear that success in life is entirely genetic. Somehow he believes that motivation or lack of it has no effect on IQ test scores and that such scores prove the correlation that the higher the social class one is born into the higher the IQ. This is like saying that Blacks score less than Whites in IQ tests because they are Black and that White supremacism – specifically designed to be a demotivator - has nothing to do with it. Or that lie detector tests reveal truth no matter the mental state of the person questioned.

This pseudo-science desperately tries to turn a soft science like sociology into a hard one. This acultural and acontextual drivel is just the sort of stuff designed to create social policy that fossilises culture to such an extent that help for the poor to succeed is never given - since the poor can do nothing about their birth circumstances. It is a brazen attempt by the middle-class to retain the unearned cultural privileges that centuries of social snobbery have given them. The problem with any attempt to divorce statistics from human nature is that sociology then loses sight of the very humanity it tries to describe and explain. It is not statistics that can to tell lies, it is statisticians who can.

Essentially political propaganda for the status quo in which it is the clear intention of the author to declare that failure is mostly the fault of the failure and that society has minimal impact on personal opportunities. This is wishful-thinking of the highest order from those who want an unregulated market from which they can extract maximum value with minimum effort and without accepted negative consequence to others. The author is correct to state that equality of opportunity is meritocratic while equality of outcome is not, but fails to explain why the latter is so divergent in an alleged meritocracy.

To achieve this goal, the author simply and only focuses on occupational selection and recruitment as his standard of his belief that the UK is more meritocratic than he believes others believe. By limiting the remit of ones research, in this way, one can very easily avoid most of the evidence that proves the UK is a rigidly hierarchical culture. His materialist approach also reveals the materialism used to disguise the cultures' lack of any other values to which anyone could or would aspire. Yet, the author claims he is not doing this.

Books like this show why sociology is not a real science since quantities are not really being compared - despite the materialistic approach - only political opinions based on limited facts because the remit of the work is so limited. Avoiding the full complexity of the actual situation also explains why the book is so short.

To achieve its political goal, the book complains about the fact that most sociologists are socialists. This is not scientifically valid - only of political validity - since the book is little more than a politically-motivated attack on such people - and socialism, in general. Social mobility in the limited way defined is clearly going to be great since when there are needs for employees to fill more skilled posts that cannot be met from the middle-class, say, their will be recruitment from the lower. This pragmatism however, does not mean we live in a meritocracy but an economic culture based on more realistic tenets than generally assumed. This does not mean that there are no problems with being nouveau riche or parvenu and the author has nothing to say about the employment disparities that exist based on ethnicity and gender. The research here focuses relentlessly on White males: The minority of the workforce. The other variable the author avoids dealing with is personal attitudes. Many top jobs require one to have a certain political outlook on life, consistent with social class membership. So the fact that someone from a poor background scores a senior position does not indicate the existence of a meritocracy but of people willing to hold certain beliefs in order to get certain jobs. They would then be middle-class on the outside but lower-class on the inside. A true meritocracy, however, would only consider personal aptitude, ability and education in relation to the job not whether a candidate shared his employer's world-view. Since the British class system was invented to inculcate different personal attitudes in different classes, the book is, in effect; not discussing social class, but how much one earns compared to others. This is such a simplification of reality that its practical value is limited. Understanding the significance of this book relies on understanding the author's definition of class, which is not a common sense one. Just because there are more middle-class jobs now does not mean there is less social snobbery since the latter is not based on economics but personal insecurity. And social snobbery limits class mobility.

Social classes are not God-given but man-made. This means that claiming the lower-class are less intelligent is nonsensical since that would be the same tail-wagging-the-dog argument used by apartheidists who claimed Blacks were less intelligent because few had university degrees when few Blacks were allowed to attend university. Such a self-fulfilling prophecy is typical of ivory-tower academics trying to score political points. Despite mentioning motivation, the author obsesses about ability as measured by IQ tests as a means of avoiding the very subject of motivation and of conflating one with the other. He never considers the cultural disadvantages of the poor are designed to keep them that way by a middle-class intent on maintaining its own privileges irrespective of merit. This author lives in the same fantasy land he accuses his critics of living in. we all know from experience that encouragement and support have a big impact on motivation and, thus, ability but this author evades this issue and relies on claiming that clever people are clever because they are clever. He implicitly concludes that cognitive ability is fixed from birth and that nothing can adversely affect it. So why do good parents waste their time encouraging their children to study hard since this should have no positive effect on educational outcomes? While he claims most sociologists ignore intelligence as the basis for class distinctions, he ignores motivation and the fossilization of those differences.

A book that tries to blind you with science by leaving so much science out. The basic problem with this book is that it talks in generalities not certainties. This means that if social class is a predictor of intelligence then the social classes will simply see birth circumstances as the basis for judging others and not actual ability. Nowhere does the author make this observable fact clear because he wishes to make his generalities into the certainties that they can never be. The fact is that the UK has social mobility because of ability while not having it because of motivation - lack of the former being caused by correlating such mobility with social class rather than ability. It is not social class primarily that makes one able but genes yet it is easy to reverse the flow of causality, or pretend it does not exist, as this book does for political reasons. The author never addresses the issue of the relationship between having a high IQ and actually making use of one's intelligence - an important question given declining UK economy. All that this book can show is that class is determined by both nature and nurture but that the precise demarcation between the two never can. The author never explains why the lower-class have less motivation and success while claiming that lack of motivation is not so much of an issue in success. The problem is that he is basically a social snob obsessed with explaining economic outcomes on an individual rather than an institutional basis. He implies that stopping dull middle-class children from falling does not stop bright lower-class children from rising despite the fact that the dull middle-class offspring is occupying a job to the detriment of the lower-class person. He also does not directly consider that success is more to do with agreeing others than disagreeing with them, as his own experience of being disputed in his findings clearly shows. He does not consider emotional issues like having entered a class, is one accepted in it by others. He attacks others rather more than defending his own ideas; while denying the efficiency with which human nature blurs reality through prejudice. Like so much Western sociology this is more about statistics than about people. Like all right-wingers they accuse the left-wing of ideological bias by presenting their own ideological biases since their solutions are just as ideological in their own way. Neither side is capable of just leaving the poor alone to get on with their own lives and insist on sing them as political footballs to pursue their own agendas.

Copyright © 2010 Frank TALKER. Permission granted to reproduce and distribute it in any format; provided that mention of the author’s Weblog ( is included: E-mail notification requested. All other rights reserved. Frank TALKER is also the author of Sweaty Socks: A Treatise on the Inevitability of Toe Jam in Hot Weather (East Cheam Press: Groper Books, 1997) and is University of Bullshit Professor Emeritus of Madeupology.
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