I have heard so many ridiculous things from people who have never stepped outside their own limitations in the course of my life that I have now come to this conclusion.
I have had many wry smiles at the events of the last decade or so, particularly with the attitudes of my occasional long term boyfriends. (occasional because they have been around for thirty years and I have maybe spent three months with them in total over that time) I have, as a consequence, developed a healthy disrespect for opinions, since they tend to be formed without much in the way of research.
As I was scribbling the latest short story, it occurred to me that a lot of British culture is about disdain. Disdain for people outside of one’s class, disdain for people who are socially mobile, disdain for people who are new, disdain for people who are different. I lived in England for a period in the nineties, and I can honestly count on one hand the number of times anyone gave me any nonsense because I was Scottish. I cannot say the same thing now. On my recent trip to see Wolfe, I noticed heads jerking in my direction as soon as I was over the border. I presume this is media influence. I amused myself by considering that I was braving enemy territory to catch a glimpse of my beloved.
Now, this could be because I am rather class neutral. I went to a very tiresome state school, and yet am considerably posher than my privately educated siblings. I put it down to the binge reading of Wodehouse and a lot of Russian and French philosophers in my formative years, but it could also just be a pose, I don’t know. I know I have managed to blend in equally well working in the best and worst areas of Glasgow in the course of my research work.
I also transplant easily into rural areas, because I chose to leave Glasgow at 17. I have lived everywhere from a tin shack on an island farm to a stately home, thereby becoming unclassifiable.
So, when my friends assert that ‘posh gits’ are ‘snobs’ and that I cannot possibly understand why they would say this because I am also comparatively posh, it is very easy for me to wonder if they know what snobbery actually is?
Glasgow has always been particularly stratified. Different areas don’t like each other. People will even take a dislike to you because you aren’t interested in hair care products, or because you don’t dress like them. People used to be segregated on the grounds of being Protestant or Catholic and it is said that the council is still run in this way. (as someone who is neither of those things, it has always been amusing introducing people to theology during the tentative questioning) Opening your mouth to speak at all can be a problem, and God help you if you actually know anything, because this is ‘giving yourself airs.’ It is a huge failure as a national culture that many Scots just don’t like it if anyone achieves anything. Even doing something is a problem, as I found out when I did my micro survey to find out if people in the ‘Yes’ movement really understood the figures they were quoting. I was challenged on the usual basis – “Whit ye dayn that fur? Who does that cow think she is?” It is not particularly encouraging for the future that the only way people can agree is if they all slavishly worship individuals and nobody else is allowed to speak.
In considering the ‘No Glass Walls’ project, I am led to consider what is universally appealing. Many of the things I find funny are sources of boiling fury for others, and my long view of history and decision making are simply not relevant if you are worrying about feeding the cat. It is difficult to find something universally appealing in a country so obsessed with hate. Hate the Scots, hate the Lancastrians if you are from Yorkshire, hate the Londoners, hate the Brummies. I would like to say that English people hate even more than Scots do, but I am not sure that this is really the case.
This leads me to wonder how Britain has been so successful in the ‘Divide and Conquer’ policy within the state. I look at the USA and see something similar, but they have the benefit of a stratified junk education system to help things along. Here, there is absolutely nothing to stop you taking your state education and working your way up to Prime Minister if you are able to do the networking and put the hours in. It isn’t miraculous, it is simply the decisions you make and the work you put in.
So, I wonder, as a mute project, as it will have to be, what is the best way of expressing this self-limiting culture we have created? How to get people out of their chosen discomfort zone? The class war is just strata, along with all the other self-made strata people actively choose to maintain.