Respect manual work more, says top author

Hard labour: Goodhart believes that “hand” and “heart” work will boom in the future. © Sebastiao Salgado

Do we give too much status to the clever? The sudden rise of populism in Europe and America baffled politicians and experts. Now, one leading author has proposed a surprising new theory.

Just before four o’clock on the morning of 24 June 2016, Nigel Farage stepped up onto a podium in central London and announced a stunning victory.

This was the moment he had been waiting for for over 20 years: in a shock poll, the British people had voted to leave the EU. Addressing the crowd, a jubilant Farage declared: “This will be a victory for real people, a victory for ordinary people, a victory for decent people.”

It was a big claim. But his words marked just the beginning of a populist wave that has spread across the West.

Only four months later, Donald Trump stunned the world by winning the US presidency. Then, in 2019, pundits were surprised once again when comedian Volodymyr Zelensky won a huge landslide victory in Ukraine.

Many commentators have been left with a simple question: how did this happen?

Now, in a new book, author and journalist David Goodhart argues that the root cause has been right in front of us all along.

In Head Hand Heart Goodhart divides society into three distinct groups of people: the highly educated “cognitive elite” (the Heads), manual labourers (the Hands) and people who care for others (the Hearts).

He argues that over the last 50 years, society has bestowed dignity, respect and status only on those with a list of qualifications that would look impressive on a job application. Meanwhile, the Hands and the Hearts, without a university degree or a six-figure salary, feel left behind.

As Goodhart puts it: “The brightest and the best today trump the decent and the hardworking.”

From business to arts to politics – the “exam-passing classes” are the ones in control. Status inequality is part of everyday life: just 1.5% of UK MPs have ever done manual work.

Even sports are dominated by the elite. The Oxford versus Cambridge boat race is a major event in the British sporting calendar, despite the fact that athletes can only take part if they attend one of the UK’s most topflight universities.

But things may be beginning to change. The answer to inequality favoured by the elite – send more children to university so they can join the elite too – may not make sense in a world increasingly dominated by artificial intelligence.

Going to university was once seen as a ticket to a better life – but today, for example, 28% of graduates in England have jobs which do not require a degree.

And now it is the neglected Hands and Hearts, says Goodhart, who are at the centre of the populist rebellion that has swept across Europe and America.

Goodhart argues that for the first time since the postwar era, politicians are beginning to realise they need the support of the Hands and the Hearts, who make up the majority of the electorate, if they are to stay in power.

The era of “Peak Head” may finally be coming to an end.

So, do we give too much status to the clever?

Backlash

Yes, say some. We live in a fundamentally unequal world. Highly educated people dominate almost every part of society. Meanwhile, qualities such as character, integrity, courage and common sense are underrated and undervalued. It is time that the balance of power changed and the Hands and the Hearts are finally given the same social status, dignity and respect as those who have degrees.

No, say others. If we have learnt anything from the recent pandemic, it is that society needs clever people such as scientists and doctors in power. Moreover, the dominance of the Heads may soon be over anyway. Education is no longer the way to guarantee your fortune – many university graduates today receive neither the salary nor the respect they might once have expected.

You Decide

  1. Can all people be classified as a Head, a Hand, or a Heart?
  2. Does society value qualifications too much?

Activities

  1. Write a list of five jobs that you most admire. Are they Heads, Hearts or Hands? Then compare your list with your classmates.
  2. Imagine a world in which the Hands and the Hearts take power from the Heads. Write a short story set in this time.

Some People Say...

“Pundits talk about ‘populist rage’ as a way to trivialise the anger and fear coursing through the middle class.”

Elizabeth Warren, American politician and former law professor.

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that populist politicians have tried to harness the voting power of the Hearts and the Hands in recent years. In 2016, presidential candidate Donald Trump shocked commentators by saying “I love the poorly educated.” And during the 2019 UK general election campaign, Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party targeted the “Workington man” – an older, white man without a degree who voted Leave in the EU Referendum.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate surrounds the power of experts in politics. In 2016, British politician and prominent pro-Brexit campaigner Michael Gove said: “I think the people of this country have had enough of experts with organisations with acronyms saying that they know what is best and getting it wrong.” However, just a year later, a poll by the Institute for Government found that more than 80% of both Remain and Leave voters said politicians making difficult decisions should consult experts.

Word Watch

Nigel Farage
The founder and former leader of the UK Independence Party. He started campaigning for the UK to leave the European Union in 1993.
Populist
When candidates standing for election aim to appeal to “ordinary people” who do not feel represented by conventional politicians. Populist politicians can be either left or right wing.
Volodymyr Zelensky
Zelensky won more than 73% of the vote to become Ukrainian President in April 2019. Incredibly, he once starred in a satirical drama in which his character accidentally wins the Ukrainian presidency.
Job application
Goodhart’s argument is similar to that of David Brooks, a Canadian-American columnist who distinguished between CV virtues – achievements and qualifications – and eulogy virtues, the character traits that are remembered at your funeral.
Boat race
An annual race up the River Thames in London between the boat clubs of Oxford University and Cambridge University. The first race was held in 1829.
Peak Head
Goodhart argues that as we entered the “Peak Head” era, there was a “moral deregulation” which meant that being a good person was no longer valued.

Subjects

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