Snobbery in the moral maze
Should discrimination on grounds of social class be made unlawful?
On BBC Radio’s Moral Maze this week, we tackled snobbery (aka social class divisions). Our peg was the British Psychological Society’s campaign to make social class a legally protected characteristic, like sex, race and disability, which would outlaw discrimination on the basis of class (yes, really: you can read the relevant paper here).
So we asked whether a change in the law was really going to shift prejudices. After all, despite left-wing caricature social class isn’t binary (to coin a phrase) with rich and poor glowering at each other over the barricades. There are multiple gradations and sub-divisions within classes. And regardless of where people are in the social pecking order, everyone looks down on someone. Read George Orwell’s description of the disapproval by the “respectable” working class of those whom they deem to be feckless and sponging off the state.
So is it right to use the law against “classism”? (I can’t believe I just wrote that, but hey, this was the BBC). More broadly, what’s wrong with expressing a preference about how other people present themselves? Isn't some behaviour that gets labelled as snobbery just an attempt to defend high standards, whether in speech, writing, taste or manners? And isn’t the really pernicious snobbery today found among the intelligentsia who despise those without higher education and think their opinions (as in Brexit-supporters) are ignorant, bigoted and worthless?
My fellow panellists were Anne McElvoy, Giles Fraser and Ash Sarkar. Our witnesses were Bridgette Rickett, head of psychology at Leeds Beckett university and author of the British Psychological Society’s report; cultural historian DJ Taylor; David Skelton, author of The New Snobbery: Taking on Elitism; and Alex Bilmes, Editor-in-Chief of Esquire magazine.
You can listen to the programme on the BBC website here.
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