Far-Right Racists Are Just Fundamentalists With Western Names

Whether through the violent extremism of Anders Breivik or the legitimate democratic process used by Marine Le Pen, we are currently witnessing a groundswell in far-right feeling and actions throughout the populace of Western Europe. Many people here feel resentful of the immigrants who have arrived in the past few decades and the governmental policies that allowed them to do so.

I am not a fan of the term ‘far-right’, as it implies that ‘centre-right’ politicians are a little bit racist but not enough to be illegal and that ‘centre-left’ politicians are not. I would much rather the economic and social aspects of politics be separated from the labels ‘left’ and ‘right’. I would put myself on the right economically but the left socially, most people would class me as an economic and social liberal. The irony is that most politicians of the ‘far-right’ appeal to a voter base which is anything but right-wing economically. It is the poor and disenfranchised, those who feel they have more right to a share of a country’s wealth than those who have spent less time in their country who are voting for Geert Wilders. It is not the rich, be they industrialists, bankers, or sport stars that Nick Griffin is appealing to for votes, despite the popular opinion of the political spectrum and its ethnic grouping. The reactionary movements being seen throughout Europe are not ‘far-right’, they are racist and they work by appealing to the base instincts surrounding a fear of ‘otherness’. Lets not forget that the racist element in politics has always been there, as far back as you want to go populations were grouped according to ethnicity. The mass migrations started in the middle to the 20th century from the former colonies to Western Europe brought the general populace face to face with people from other cultures and the results have not always been positive as seen by the 1958 Notting Hill race riots and the rise of movements like the White Defence League, the National Front and the British National Party today. However, it is only in modern times that these types of organisations have become political parties of any note and not been generally supported by open violence against those who they perceive as ‘non-white’.

This is not just about religion or culture. Whereas in the past much talk of immigration was based on broadly ethnic grounds, with the immigrants arriving in a country being highly visible due to their different skin colour from the existing population, now much of the immigrant population is from within Europe, more specifically the EU. Despite the separation between the end of World War II and the late 1980s between East and West, much of Europe has a shared history with religious and cultural practises crossing national borders without impediment. Language and dietary tastes are often the only differences between immigrants from other European nations and the current residents. This has proven to be much more difficult for governments to deal with, the regulations within the EU allow for the free of movement of labour between member states, it is impossible to remain a member of the EU and restrict the movement of other member states’ citizens within one’s own borders. Politicians of mainstream parties have tried to tackle this issue by restricting numbers of immigrants from outside the EU but this has unintended consequences. Many of the immigrants seeking to come and work here from Asia or Africa are highly skilled graduates and therefore of obvious benefit to the economy but many unskilled workers also come illegally (or remain longer than legally allowed), changes to immigration policy alone will not solve this. The majority of immigration between EU member states happened during the boom the mid 2000s, when several former ‘Communist-Bloc’ nations were added,  before the financial collapse of 2008. Those most affected by this immigration were ‘blue-collar’ workers, especially labourers or skilled tradespeople, who found that their prices were often being undercut by the new migrants who had lower overheads by living communally or not having to support families. It is these people who find the appeal of the ‘far-right’ parties most powerful, although their feelings towards the immigrant population is not unlike that felt by the Luddites of the 19th century towards the mechanised working practises of the industrial revolution.

Some may see a correlation between the rise of the ‘far-right’ across Europe and the rise of fundamentalist Islamic ideologies throughout the world, especially among 2nd or 3rd generation immigrant muslims in Europe, as evidenced by the public transport bombings in Madrid and London following the invasion of Iraq. While it may be true that some have a ‘I hate them coz they hate us’ attitude, it should not be forgotten that the causes of fundamentalist ideological groups are almost identical to the causes of the ‘far-right’ political movements opposing them. The overriding fear of losing one’s way of life, feeling ostracised from your local or national community and a feeling of persecution by foreign powers can drive people to commit horrendous acts, as we have seen throughout history via revolutionary wars and the fall of colonialism. Whether those feelings are caused, in the modern world, by immigration, foreign policy or global capitalism, the effects are the same. People feel that the only way to maintain the way of life they enjoy or believe is ‘right’ is by violent opposition to any change, especially change proposed by or for the benefit of those who they see as ‘other’ or ‘different’ from themselves. This sentiment is evident currently in the French election campaign, with the Front National party led by Marine Le Pen pledging to virtually stop immigration and pull out of the single currency if elected, following the European parliament’s decision to limit member states’ budget deficits. These type of feelings are rooted in the fear of the unknown which is present in everyone but they are truly irrational. Why would the European parliament want to weaken the economy of an EU member state? Disagreeing with governmental policy is not the same as knowing they are ‘out to get you’, there is no ‘master plan’ of European ministers, socially engineering the nationality and culture out of all EU citizens, there are just people trying to do what they feel is right, trying to make the best of a bad financial situation.

I think the current economic situation is highly relevant to this situation, with people not only having less spending power due to wage inflation lagging behind the increases in the cost of living, help that people previously had from public bodies is decreasing due to the lack of available funds. The perceived injustices created by the myths perpetrated by certain sections of the media (immigrants do not, for example get preferential treatment in social housing) that could be tolerated during times of plenty, have come to a head with many people believing that allowing people from poorer countries to live and work here is not only an affront to those born in their country of residence but that it is also a major factor in the privations now being felt. That many immigrants work jobs often unwanted by the local population into which they move, continue to pay taxes while being unable to access the benefits afforded to those who are work-shy or benefit dependant seems to be regularly ignored.

How then, to solve the problems (if you see them as problems, which I do) of the feelings causing this divisive drive?

“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better”
 – Abraham Lincoln

There is a difference, in my opinion, between diversity and multiculturalism. Diversity does not affect how people interact with each other, it is the objective aim of good governmental policy, rather than the policy itself. Multiculturalism, is the governmental policy that has failed in this aim. It is the policy of preserving individual cultures by keeping them separate from each other, ghettoising whole communities, forcing them to become even more insular. In a diverse, cosmopolitan city such as London, multiculturalism can never work because the density of the population forces some overflow into the surrounding areas but with multiculturalism still at the heart of much local and national government policy, it can only ever happen at the fringes. This causes resentment as people see their neighbours change and now living in ‘white’ or ‘British’ pockets feel isolated and resentful towards their new neighbours, who they feel are ‘swamping’ the area and the new residents turn to what they know, their own culture, exacerbating the problem. As is so often the case, education would appear to be a solution on many levels. If a person from an immigrant background becomes educated, they often want more from their lives than can be offered by staying in the areas the grew up in, driving them to integrate fully into wider society. This is also the case with those at risk of becoming ‘far-right’ sympathisers or even voters. Sadly this does not happen often enough.

This does not mean I want the whole of Europe to become some kind of huge homogenous cultural and ethnic blob with no differences between people but that with experience of other people comes understanding. I wouldn’t want to go back to 1950 when shops didn’t sell pasta or rice, nobody knew what a curry was or how to hold chopsticks and the closest most people got to another country was the seaside. Nor should you.

Thanks for reading

Rowan

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All Morality Is Relative

I think the starting point in a piece like this should include a definition of what is meant by ‘relative morality’. To me the term encompasses a belief that what one person believes to be morally right cannot be proven to be morally wrong by another because it would involve nullifying the first persons belief system. This allows the acceptance of judicially sanctioned torture and mutilation in foreign cultures without condemnation on the basis that we cannot know any fundamental ‘truths’ about morality, that every person or state’s individual morality is equally valid.

I do not think this is a sustainable point of view in the modern world where, due to worldwide media and globalisation, we all occupy the same global space and time. This is not the same as a refusal to condemn the murderous and barbaric acts of much of the European nobility during the middle ages, the rulers of those times had no access to the moral education available in more modern times. We all know now that religious persecution is wrong but there is a huge difference between the execution of Socrates for impiety (among other things) in classical Athens and the execution (often public) of an apostate in a modern Arabic country (or indeed the media character assassinations of ‘unbelievers’ by irrational sensationalist journalists who know better but choose to forsake their ‘Christian’ morality to get better copy).

The opposing view to moral relativism is known as ‘absolute morality’, which, to me, is defined by the belief that actions and beliefs are always either wrong or right independent of the contexts of culture, time or emotion. We all, from whatever cultural background, believe murder to be wrong; this is often used as evidence for ‘god-given’ morality, how could so many nations and cultures share the same moral notions without a divine cause?

As it turns out, quite easily. My dog is quite large and powerful, he would easily be capable of killing other, smaller dogs if he so wished, I have never trained him not to and he is not (as far as I know) religious, yet he is yet to so much as bare his teeth at another dog. Even dogs that are naturally aggressive will not kill other dogs without provocation and/or training, did god give them that morality? He must also then have given my cat the moral compass that allows him to catch a mouse and play with it until it eventually dies of fright, maybe god allows torture for fun but not murder.

Despite the bestial tangent, there are a number of holes in the argument for the kind of god-given absolute morality preached by so many modern Christians seeking to combat the inevitable social liberalism that comes with scientific advancement (independent documentary evidence backing up bigoted beliefs is hard to come by). Firstly, if this morality is truly absolute, unchanging with time or context and given by god, why are there so many biblical tales of apparently ‘righteous’ men doing terrible things that we would today find abhorrent? Lot seems to have been quite willing to offer up his two daughters for gang rape as long as his guests (who he did not at the time know to be angels) were spared the same ordeal. Despite Jesus’ calls later for us to honour our mother and father, it is not hard to see why a child of Lot could become a sexual deviant as shown by their later incest. Joshua commits a string of heinous war crimes that amount to genocide and the ethnic cleansing of an entire nation on the basis or religion and race, which were (at the time) interchangeable due to the prohibition of intermarriage. Many of the laws and punishments given in the early chapters of the bible would be considered horrendous by modern standards, yet they were apparently gifted by god to his ‘chosen people’. How fair, true or ‘moral’ could these laws have been if we are told by a controversial later Jewish prophet, Jesus of Nazareth that the greatest commandment was the love of god and the so-called ‘golden rule’ or treating others as you would wish they treat you (I’m guessing god forgot to tell Joshua that last bit, or maybe he changed his mind later). Jesus also tells us that enforcers of the law must themselves be ‘without sin’, which seems to have gone unheeded throughout history; that charging interest on loans or money exchange is wrong, a belief understandable without a modern knowledge of economic inflation; forgiveness, asceticism and humility feature in all four of the Gospels although they seem to be much less popular with the organised church at large yet he seems to have been peculiarly quiet on homosexuality, despite the modern Christian obsession with the topic.

It seems to me, an outsider from Christianity (although formerly a church-going, confirmed Anglican, believer) that despite the name ‘Christian’, the belief system of most of the followers of Christ since the establishment of the orthodox early church in the 4th century C.E. have owed more to the teachings of St Paul and the Torah rather than the Gospels which seem instead to have been used both as proof of the miraculous power and the historical authenticity of a man for whom we have very little other evidence.

Despite the clear problems with a belief in an absolute morality prescribed by god, the arguments between absolute and relative morality are not confined to the religious sphere. Many atheists are not, as some would have you believe, true moral relativists. Many modern humanists do believe that there are absolute moral boundaries, they just tend to have differing opinions to religious groups as to where these boundaries are.

I do not think this is the end of the story however. I believe that these ‘absolutes’ are not truly absolute. They can and do move with time, they are in a constant state of flux, affected and moulded by us just as we are moulded by them. Until fairly recently in Europe and still in most of the rest of the world, homosexuality was and is socially unacceptable and/or illegal. What has changed our value system to permit this behaviour in modern Britain? With the gradual relaxation of religious orthodoxy in previous centuries the level of tolerance in the general population progressively increased and a sense of ‘live and let live’ came to pass. Eventually it became clear that allowing those previously known as sexual deviants to fully participate in society was of detriment to nobody and most of us now wonder what all the fuss was about. This has made Britain a better place to live, constant hatred and persecution on the basis that god may have said it to someone thousands of miles away and thousands of years ago cannot be of any benefit to anyone.

Our morality is exactly that, ours. Not ours to choose, not consciously anyway, its is ours because it is both unique to us and uniquely made by us. All our societal knowledge and experience, our successes and failures, our fears and hopes all pooled together and shared through the new media. Just as a person entering middle-age often mellows with their accretion of wisdom, so too should humanity as a whole. Despite the ‘mid life crisis’ being experienced by religious zealots worldwide, there can be no going-back on this. Pandora’s box is indeed open and no amount of pious screeching will make me disbelieve what I know to be right.

All morality is absolutely relative.

This is a follow-up to a previous piece – “The True Origins Of Morality” – http://wp.me/p1TXXQ-2N

Thanks for reading.

Rowan

Capping Benefits Will Not Cause Child Poverty

One of the main stories in the news this week is the government proposal to cap the total amount payable in state benefits to a family with children at a maximum of £26,000 per annum (or £500 per week) and the House of Lords attempts to block this cap. This amount has not been plucked out of the air, it has been chosen because it is the amount of money (after tax) that an average wage earning family would have available to spend. Families receiving out of work benefits to do with disability or illness will be exempt from the cap. Currently, the amount of benefit received by a family is not limited in any way, more children means more money, as do higher housing benefit costs.

The idea of a cap set at a fixed, arbitrary level seems to have strong public support, especially among those working but earning low salaries, who appear to be working to support their families yet find themselves unable to provide their families with a lifestyle that may be available to them if they were not working. However there are sections of society who are resisting having a limit to the amount payable to some families, with their main objections to the bill being that all cases should be assessed separately and that families with high housing costs or large numbers of children in the household should not be punished by the state for being out of work.

Many people (me included) believe that having an income equivalent to that earned in an average working household is quite enough for any family to live on, regardless of size. If a family’s housing benefit costs are so high as to be eating up a huge proportion of their total benefits cap, they are free to move to a cheaper area, that is after all what all working families have to do. I cannot see this being the huge, nationwide problem reported in some parts of the press. London has much higher housing costs than all other parts of the UK and also happens to have the most comprehensive transport infrastructure (meaning the move would be less disruptive) and the most buoyant jobs market (meaning less excuses for being out of work long-term), those claimants living in London may experience most of the problems associated with these changes but also have the most chance of being able to deal with them easily.

I have heard it said that these changes may push many children into poverty. I think this is entirely the wrong attitude to have, the parents of these children need to look at themselves if they are unable to provide what they believe their children need. The government is not preventing them from working and it is not the government’s responsibility to pick up the tab for ever-increasing family size. Most people do not choose to have families they know they will be unable to support, this is called ‘being responsible’. The idea that it is a ‘right’ to have as many children as you like, safe in the knowledge that the taxpayer (you & me) will foot the ever-increasing bill, while the majority struggle to provide our families with what they need with little or no outside help is clearly not ‘right’ or ‘fair’ (incidentally these are the very terms used by those who disagree with me) .

What exactly is the definition of ‘Child Poverty’? The existing social infrastructure prevents all forms of absolute poverty in all but the most extreme of cases. We do not have children starving to death or dying of easily treated illnesses (cases of child neglect excepted) as happens in some countries in other parts of the world. The poverty we are speaking about here is known as relative poverty, measured against other members of the society in which they live. While a family can be judged as being in poverty based on numbers and statistics, when it comes to individual members within a family unit it is not so simple. Not owning a smartphone, iPod or trainers with air bubbles and flashing lights may be a sign of not having much money but does it really mean you are so poor as to be deprived of what is necessary for your general well-being? If judging poverty from a child’s point of view, do the societal norms of the childs immediate surroundings get taken into account? I was lucky enough to be sent to a private school, yet among my peers I was considered relatively poor, clearly not poor when placed in the setting of society at large but given the socio-economic background of the English public school system my family were near the lower end of the income scale. Even in families with a bare minimum of expendable income, children need not go without things they need, as long as all the family do not spend what little money they have on things they merely want. Relative poverty is supposed to indicate when a person has to go without things that most members of society take for granted. I may take for granted being able to turn the heating on or being able to afford to eat meat every day but I certainly wouldn’t put foreign holidays or subscription TV into this bracket.

The fundamentals of this argument over who is to blame for a child’s poverty boil down to whose responsibility you believe it is to ensure a child’s well-being. In the first instance this should surely be the parent’s, I would not imagine many people thinking it a good idea for the state to install surveillance cameras in a home after a child’s birth to monitor the parenting skills on show but most would see it as the state’s responsibility to step in if the care given was seen to be inadequate, abusive or neglectful. It is also the case that it must be first the parent’s responsibility to ensure the well-being of their children. Given that the vast majority of parents manage to provide for their children perfectly adequately, even with many having much lower incomes than the cap under current proposal, any form of poverty or deprivation evident in the child’s upbringing cannot and should not be seen as being caused solely by a change in government policy.

If you have a child who you are unable to raise, stop looking around for others to blame. You are not the only one in your circumstances, others are managing. If you can’t, don’t blame them, or the government, or me. Blame yourself.

Thanks for reading

Rowan

All comments are welcome, I’ll try to answer as many as I can.

The True Origins of Morality

As an atheist, I am often accused of either having no morals or of using moral standards previously prescribed by god. That I have no morals at all cannot be true, everyone has a morality of their own. Even if a persons views differ from yours, that a person has things they will or will not do and things they believe are right or wrong gives them a morality. An immoral person has morals, although this morality is not something many of us would realise and would disagree with this person on many matters. However, this first point is merely semantics, we all know what is really meant by morality. A base of views on what is right or wrong that, while the details may vary between individuals, are generally agreed between most members of a society. So what about the second point? Do I have a moral standard that was previously prescribed by god? I certainly have a moral compass which points in the same direction on many issues as would one belonging to a Christian (or most other religions). That two people agree on a decision has little to do with religious law or even (in my opinion) fundamental truths about good and evil. I believe there are several mechanisms inherent within our minds that tell us what feels right. People often do things that they know to be wrong, why? Actions that we know to be wrong are rarely carried out without both clear benefits and lack of reprisal, yet even with these in place, most people would still resist any temptations they may feel. Is this because of religion convictions or is there another psychological mechanism at work here? I will do my best to explain my thoughts on these mechanisms in the following words.

  • Empathy

Empathy is a character trait that, although present to a degree in many animals, is uniquely powerful in humans. Our ability to appreciate both the pain and happiness of others, not only in our own social group but also outside, has given us social powers not available to any other animal. Knowing how others feel and being able to react accordingly gives us an advantage in being able to judge our actions from the point of view of other people.

By knowing what it feels like to be stolen from, I can have some idea what a victim of my theft may feel like, this will in turn affect my choice of actions and may persuade me from stealing. Clearly real world situations are far more complex than this but the principle remains. Also, our ability to feel a version of the emotions our relatives are feeling (and for them to feel ours) makes it much easier to reassure or encourage them, strengthening our social bonds and enhancing our ability to work together.

  • Anticipation

The ability of being able to predict the future with any degree of accuracy is unique to humans. A dog may be able to learn what happens when I put my boots on (its time for a walk) or a bear may know when there are likely to be salmon swimming upstream but these are learnt responses to repeating stimuli rather than the sort of anticipation I refer to here. Foreseeing the possibility of being caught in a criminal act (or even being caught following a police investigation) is something that only we can do.

Knowing that we should not indulge our child’s every whim but should show restraint and try to teach them patience is an example of a combination of these first two traits. Our empathy tells us the child is unhappy yet our ability to anticipate tells us that the child will be happier in the long-term once they have learnt that they cannot have everything they want immediately. In a more negative sense, knowing how a neighbouring tribe may feel if their religious symbols are desecrated in an act of war may make me more likely to do it if my intent is to inflict as much harm as possible, even if those religious symbols are worth nothing to me in material terms.

  • Selfishness

The first and most obvious cause of a person’s actions is selfishness. There is the obvious, outward selfishness of a person unwilling to share his food or refusing to give money to charity. These character traits would not be described as good by most people, indeed the majority of us will have left these behaviours behind in childhood. In adulthood much of this outward selfishness can become tempered by our knowledge of how others will feel about our behaviour (empathy) and how this will in turn affect our relationships with them in the future (anticipation). We may justify our selfish actions (‘I don’t give to the homeless because they’ll spend it on drugs’) or exaggerate our unselfish ones (wearing a charity badge) but both of these have the same starting point, selfishness. What benefits one’s family, friend and loved ones can also be seen as a selfish cause, depending on the closeness of the relationship and the level of personal sacrifice involved.

There is a level of selfishness involved in almost all actions, even if not immediately apparent. Our previously discussed qualities of empathy and anticipation tell us that even an anonymous gift to charity has a selfish outcome, the knowledge of the happiness being provided to someone in need. The three work in a circular way, back round to the start with a diminution of strength at each switch. If I send a friend a card, I anticipate he will be happy & grateful (empathy), this makes me glad (selfish), I also anticipate there may be a return card and so on.

How do these relate to morals?

The moral right or wrong we all feel have a basis in the reasons for the actions given above. We are all able to empathise with both the maker and receiver of any action. We know that theft is wrong because we have an idea of what it may be like to be stolen from. Mitigating circumstances may be taken into account (such as a starving woman stealing food to feed her children) and this will affect the punishment given by a court. Even with mitigating circumstances, immoral acts cannot be allowed to continue unchecked because we are able to anticipate the effects increasing the frequency of these acts may have (if everyone who was hungry was allowed to steal food there would be no incentive to grow it).

Why do we have different moral standards?

Once a moral code has been established in law (either secular or religious) it has been given a level of permanence not applicable to most other parts of cultural life. Tastes and fashions change as technology advances, once hardline or leftfield views gradually move from the edge to the centre and back again in politics and the media, tolerance of difference waxes and wanes with the zeitgeist. Laws established in a secular court or parliament can be changed but are usually well behind the current feeling of the populace. Religious laws are set permanently for all time (apart from some eg. usury in christian cultures) and as they are supposedly given by god must always be more important than what feels right.

Religious taboos around food are good examples of this; shellfish is likely to give one food poisoning if not freshly prepared and in a hot country the window for fresh consumption can be quite short so stopping members of your tribe from consuming them is a good way to improve their health. In the modern world where we understand the causes of food poisoning and have much better sanitation, this law is no longer necessary and the fact that most of the world has learnt how to prepare and eat prawns safely seems reason enough to abolish the laws against their consumption.

Condemning a person for being a practising homosexual or using contraception may well have made sense in the world where the religious law was originally conceived, a world where procreation and population increase was important to the survival of the tribe or clan. It makes no sense now, in an overpopulated world where parents need to put far more resources into the support of each child until a much older age and a couple (of any sexual mixing) participating in non-procreational sexual activity purely for their own pleasure is seen by most people as a positive thing for their relationship.

Adultery is still seen by most people as an immoral act because there is a clear victim who may be negatively affected without having any obvious or immediate choice. However, the old days where a spouse was seen as a possession are past and while we may not approve of the behaviour we, as a society, have deemed it to be not punishable as a criminal act (although still clear grounds for divorce).

As the world developed materially and economically at differing rates around the globe, so too the rates of moral development differed. In the years since the industrialisation of the west we have seen immigration and emigration throughout the globe, often followed by the friction of differing cultural moral standards, each with their own righteousness. Worldwide mass media has highlighted these differences without the viewer having to actually visit the places in question. Without considering how relevant a person’s cultural practises may be in the place they developed, many dismiss them as ‘barbaric’, ‘oppressive’ or ‘decadent’. However, as many of these are due to religious reasons they cannot be changed for fear of undermining the cultural history of the people to which they pertain (eg. headscarves, circumcision). It remains to be seen if the more moderate religious leaders will be able to hold back the tide of radicalisation and convince their flock to follow the spirit rather than the letter of their religious laws or if the world will continue its current trend of dividing into devout and apathetic.

We know scientifically that there have been people on earth for many thousands of years before any universal religious laws were written down. Do modern orthodox Jews really believe that a small band of shellfish eating hunter-gatherers in Northern Europe 8,000 years ago must have displeased yahweh with their unholy diet? Despite what you may hear now, many people across Europe in the early twentieth century thought there was a ‘Jewish Question’, would Pope Urban II have approved of Hitler’s ‘final solution’? We all cringe at the brutality shown by many aspects of British rule during the colonial period, yet these actions were often not condemned at the time. If one truly believes that sacrificing a child will ensure the health of one’s family, what is the moral course of action? What we now know has affected our answers to many moral dilemmas which in days gone by had different answers. Religion provides not the unchanging morality with which to answer the questions of how we should live our lives, religion is the barrier we need to cross in order that we may enable our knowledge and reason to show us the appropriate current morality necessary for societal harmony in these rapidly changing, turbulent times.

Thanks for reading

Rowan

All comments are welcome, I’ll answer as many as I can.

I know I should have expanded on a number of points made and it seems a bit jumbled but at nearly 2000 words it’s getting too long for a single post, I may discuss in more depth some of the points in later posts.

Students should be grateful for what they’ve got

If you were offered the chance to make a no-risk, high-gain, long-term investment, would you? Here are the terms:

  1. No payment up front, someone else will pay the initial fees, you will be billed on account at a very favourable interest rate (far better than you could even hope to get from a bank) and are guaranteed to have no real-term increase in the cost of your initial investment.
  2. You only have to settle the account after the investment has paid off and is generating an income. In fact this investment will not only pay for itself, it will (if it pays off) give you a raised income for the rest of your working life.
  3. If your investment does not work, don’t worry, you don’t have to pay anything at all. All the risk is being taken by other people on this one.
  4. If, after 30 years, you still haven’t paid off the cost of your investment, don’t worry. It will all be written off and you will be debt free with all the benefits of your investment your to take.

I wish I could get a deal like this from my ISA.

This, then is what all the student protests are about. They feel that the investments should just be given out freely to everyone who wants one. That may sound fair to you but is it not right that those students who go on to have high earning careers pay back some of the capital invested in them by the state? After all, is it not them who will see the most benefit from their investment? Nobody is seriously suggesting that all students will have to pay back £27,000 for their 3 years, only those for whom their time at university has been productive and beneficial to their career. Even with a degree, many students would struggle to get a job paying more than the £21,000 a year cut-off with no experience in their chosen sector, meaning they would be paying back precisely nothing. Yeah, really expensive.

 

Lets debunk some myths:

  • What about students from poorer backgrounds who can’t afford the fees?

 As stated above, they won’t have to pay them until they are earning enough to be able to start the repayments. Even once they reach the £21,000 starting point for repayments, the amount being paid back will be tiny, nowhere near enough to cover the full costs. Is paying back £1,000 a year until your early fifties such a huge expense when you will only be billed if you can afford it? Until now fees of over £3,000 a year have had to be paid up-front, surely that is more likely to put off poorer students than the proposed system?

  • What about all the students with rich parents?

 Won’t they have an advantage by being able to pay the fees early and become debt free younger? The current proposals are that early repayment will be possible but will cost you 5% more than the standard contributions taken from a monthly salary. So yes, they will but it will cost them even more, further contributing to the SLC (student loans company) and helping to cover the costs of graduates who have not earnt enough to pay back their fees.

 

The real tragedy of the new scheme has been the systematic mis-reporting taking place throughout the media world and the seeming inability of the so-called ‘future’ (god help us) to find out the truth for themselves. The facts are out there and I cannot see why or how anyone could have even the slightest problem with them, unless they are simply envious of the generation putting these plans in place, a generation who had free access to university. “They had it, why can’t we?” ‘They’ presumably being the MPs running the show. I’ll tell you why, too many people now go to university for the current taxation system to fund them. Hardly anyone went to university 30 years ago, certainly not anyone who wasn’t academically gifted. It must be considered a good thing that the aspirations of an entire generation of ‘working class’ children have been raised to such an extent that they now expect, and are indeed expected, to stay in education until the age of 21. However, the increased costs of educating these people, combined with the costs of supporting them and the loss of their economic input in the workplace between the ages of 16-21 have affected the treasury to an extent that it is no longer viable to keep the old system. A new revenue stream must be found. Although this need not necessarily be directly from the students themselves, if it was from other sources, it would still need to be paid in full by taxation. There’s no getting away from the cold, hard fact that governments have no money of their own. Almost all government funding comes from taxation of different forms, if the government pays for it, we all pay for it. Why should the users who benefit most from the service not pay a bit more than those who benefit less?

One of the positive outcomes proposals I can foresee is the renewal of interest in more academic degrees, especially science and engineering. Why would you pay £27,000 for a degree in ‘History of Art’ or ‘Media Studies’ if it is unlikely to help you in the workplace? There are more degrees awarded in Media Studies each year than there are total jobs in the media nationwide. If you go on to a successful career in another sector your degree costs will still have to be paid back, it must be a better option to choose a degree that endows you with easily transferable skills. True, all degrees give you a certain level of ‘life skills’ that can help you in any job, all the more reason then to ensure your high level of employability by getting as many skills as you can with your degree (assuming of course that your degree is not for a set pre-chosen career path such as medicine or law).

The fundamentals of this argument are that the costs of educating and supporting students throughout their university life will have to be paid by someone. Whether you feel the burden should be spread evenly across the taxpaying public (e.g. NHS) or if you feel the users and beneficiaries of the service should contribute to the costs they create (e.g. Transport infrastructure) is a matter of opinion, unlikely to be swayed by me. What many of the protesting students seem to have missed is the cause of the change in policy. Without having the privileges of university education available to all based on merit rather than family wealth, no change would be necessary. All modern teenagers should be grateful for the wealth of career choices available to them, choices not available during their parents education. You may not want to pay for yourself but don’t confuse having these fees with restricting access.

Remember, it’s a no-lose investment.

Thanks for Reading.

Rowan

All comments welcome, I’ll answer as many as I can.

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