Living In A Box
You can have your genetic code analysed to find out where you’re from, but it can’t tell you who you are.
I recently had dinner with some very nice social-data analysts, who told me that statistically I was an outlier who didn’t fit their paradigms. The press is full of data telling us about how we vote, how long we live and so on, but if you throw the system off it ceases to recognise you, and people like me appear to ‘live outside the box’.
Which puzzles me. Remember being at school and discovering you had to get picked for a side? Side-choosing stays with you all your life. According to the analysts the new political sides are liberal VS conservative, college VS school, rich VS poor and old VS young, and being on any one of those sides aligns you up with several others. Yesterday a UK data study found schoolchildren becoming ‘high rejectors’ ie. markedly less liberal about social attitudes, and that it coincides with the rise of Trump, especially among those with poor education. So one particular side emerges; poor+young+school+conservative, the very equation that used to create socialists. For decades that was the Daily Mirror’s target readership.
I grew up middle-class (broke white collar parents who owned their own house) in a conservative family, but I was gay and therefore automatically liberal, having seen what happens to people like me in repressive countries. I became a writer and ran a company with a published code of ethics, more layers of liberalism. Writers are treated warily by the authorities. Countries fear you’ll say something bad about them, so I usually omit ‘writer’ on customs forms. I doubt I can go back to Dubai after writing ‘The Sand Men’ – not that I’d want to. My occupation heavily affects my insurance premiums.
The analysts felt that other circumstances preselected my side; our family was neither rich nor poor, but my mother always had two jobs. My school was neither state nor private; London’s guild schools were public and independent until Mrs Thatcher privatised them, eventually stopping boys like me from admittance. I did not take a gap year and started work immediately, remaining in employment to the present day, and I’m a baby-boomer, so all this should push me toward conservatism, but it hasn’t. I remain a dyed-in-the-wool liberal. That confused my dinner guests.
When you break it down like a charge sheet, you start to wonder just how much you manage to choose for yourself. Clearly what set me on a course that confounds people to this day was my choice of occupation. But you need the opportunity to be able to make the choice, and that door is closing.
Now that Priti Patel and her gang of unprincipled street thugs are proudly killing free movement, the young will find their choices curtailed. All across Europe I meet young people who speak several languages, have degrees in different countries from where they were born or where they live now, who marry and have children with others across these borders, who have portfolio jobs and even commute between countries.
This must not be the last generation who can live outside of those boxes.