The Great Divide

Most people reading this blog come from a generation regarded by themselves and others as pretty liberal. Certainly compared to our parents generation we are more free; sexually, educationally, socially. We campaign for gay marriage. We support the fight of those against dictatorial regimes with no fear of the consequences of doing so. We are paid the same and have equal rights, whatever sex we are born. We stand for a freedom of choice, yet many of us do not apply the same 'freedom' to our own choices. Let me explain where I'm going with this.

I went to one of the most expensive schools in Britain. One of those public schools that still employed draconian laws like 7:30 'Feet off Ground' time, where you were expected to sit in bed and read a book. Teachers patrolled the hallways at night, ears pinned to doors, trying to catch wind of any whispering. We were allowed to see our parents 5 times a term: at the start, at the end, half term, and one weekend either side. It was quaint, it was backwards, it was bullshit. Unlike our more liberal state counterparts, our choices for GCSE were already mapped out for us, our only input being which language we wanted to learn, and whether we wanted to take drama, music, or art; geography or history. At AS and A Level, the choices slightly broadened, but no one dropped out at 16 and went off to do something vocational. That wasn't a choice. There was no other option than university, on which 'life path' there were plenty of patronising lectures on how to write your Personal Statement. There was never a contingency plan for those, who, heaven forbid, may want to strike a different path.

University is said to be the great social leveller, and yes, the structure and way of life of boarding school seemed practically medieval compared to the liberal 'personal responsibility' placed on you at the start of your course. Luckily for me, I chose to be put in a halls where there were hardly any public school people. Not that I have anything against what many would remind me is "my own kind", just that I wanted something different. I wanted to meet people I otherwise wouldn't have. I wanted experiences that a hall full of home-county LOMBARDs (Lots Of Money But A Real Dick) wouldn't offer me. Hell, I regarded my new life as so liberal, I looked at the glued-together cliques of girls from my old school in pity. Except I wasn't, not really, all that free when it came to my personal life. For it's all very well socialising with those who regard themselves as 'working class' (although university is largely regarded as an institution reserved only for the 'middle' and up), but dating one seemed a step too far.

My upbringing and education had instilled in me a certain level of snobbery. I felt fear at the imagined disappointment of my parents if I brought home someone who had attended state school. Collectively, my public school peers regarded those less fortunate synonymously less intelligent, and therefore somehow inferior. It was this arrogance I tried to distance myself from at university, not entirely unsuccessfully. This summer I moved to Bristol and met someone. The first boyfriend to have not gone to public school, or university. To come from a background where importance is placed not on mental achievements, but on physical. Where you are not judged by your A-Level results, but on your strength of character. It's a fast paced world that sees much money pass through hands but rarely sticks. There is a jealous loathing of the 'posh' and well-spoken; a deep-seated sense of entitlement coupled with a dark misery at the fear that they will live, and die, in the same place they were born. They all want to get out, yet couldn't think of living any other way.

This is a symptom of the dual nature of supposedly 'liberal' Britain. We say we're becoming a class-less society; that through cultural diversity and better education we are slowly shrugging off the age-old problem of class discrimination and prejudice that Britain has been at the mercy of for centuries. But the fact that even our generation, the most vocal and liberal campaigners, rarely end up far from the social strata that they were born, is quite telling.

In my first year at university, I read Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto as part of a crash-course on philosophy I took. Our lecturer, who was a pretty divisive character, stated at the start of the lecture that according to Karl Marx, those who are born poor, will die poor - those who are born rich, will die rich. Somehow that summary of one of Marx's social theories stuck in my mind. The sad thing is, despite his observations being based upon Victorian Manchester with its factories and slums, I don't think socially much has changed. The poor still marry the poor. Whether that's because a lack of education has left them bereft of ambition, or because they share common core values and experiences, is irrelevant. The lower classes will continue to begrudge those 'above them' without aiming to better their situations for themselves; the upper classes will continue to criticise those 'below them' without championing a system that supports and encourages those less fortunate.

We say we live in a liberal and free society. And we do, in the sense that we have the freedom of speech and expression, equal rights, and a *largely* democratic political system. But can a society be free when such deep-rooted divisions exist? Are we training our eye on the plight of third-world countries to escape problems within our own? Are we entirely hypocritical? I don't know. What I do know is that you can't call yourself liberal if you apply none of your beliefs to your own actions.

Do you agree?

Belle x

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