08 red pepperoct/nov2007
The rich, as everyone knows, are getting richer. Mindbogglingly richer (see opposite). And as if that wasn’t unfair enough, the bastards are also living longer – a lot longer. Men in the toffs’ borough of Kensington and Chelsea, for example, can now expect to live for 82.2 years, compared with a life expectancy of just 69.9 years in working-class Glasgow. And that’s just the average. The reasons for this seem obvious to most of us. All that money buys you better living conditions, better healthcare, more leisure time, less stress. You’ve got the time and the money and the knowledge to look after yourself properly, less need to turn to the fags and the drink and the drugs to brighten up your day. But we’ve got it all wrong, according to one group of academics, who for obvious reasons are finding increasing favour
among right-wing commentators and the rich themselves. The rich live longer than the rest of us, their research purports to prove, for the same reason that they are richer than the rest of us in the first place. It’s because they are cleverer. We have, among others, Ian Deary of the University of Edinburgh and Linda Gottfredson of the University of Delaware to thank for this insight. According to their longterm research into IQ, there’s a strong correlation between health and wealth and intelligence. Deary, for example, co-authored a 2003 study in Scotland, which found that each onepoint drop in IQ scores corresponded to roughly a one per cent rise in mortality rates. And the pair contributed a paper to the February 2004 issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science in which they argued that in general the rich were healthier
because their intelligence made them more ‘health literate’. Now you don’t need a Mensa IQ to understand that there’s some truth in this. Of course the brighter you are, the more likely you are to know how to look after yourself properly. And of course all those fags and that fat and booze are the major cause of so many Glaswegians popping their clogs prematurely in comparison with the Kensington and Chelsea set. But do Deary and Gottfredson and co really think that your average Glaswegians are too unintelligent to understand that the fags are killing them? Or could the fact that they continue smoking possibly be to do with something else?
There are two scrappy notices taped to the reception window at our local postal sorting office (the second, presumably, is in case you miss the first). They’re both headed ‘Polite Notice’ and tell customers to ‘turn off your mobile phone or MP3 player before coming to the counter or you will not be served’. This is ‘polite’ in the sense that ‘go away’ is a polite version of ‘fuck off’. They’re not over fond of members of the public at our local sorting office and they don’t mind letting the public know it. There’s part of me doesn’t blame them. There’s not much job satisfaction to be had in being on the front line of a public service that - in this part of London at least - doesn’t pay enough to retain staff for long enough to train them on how to deal with the public. And I’ve no doubt that it’s a right pain having to deal with the daily run of disgruntled, fractious or just plain ignorant customers when they’re listening to something
else through their earplugs at the same time. ‘Hi, yeah, I’m in the sorting office. No, I don’t know if they’ve got it - I’ll ask, shall I? Hang on, I can’t hear what he’s saying ...’ But they’ve developed ‘Don’t ask me, I only work here’ into an extreme form of misanthropy at this particular counter. The woman in front of me has come to collect something that she says she needs urgently. Tickets, a passport maybe, I don’t quite catch what she says – I’m just finishing a call on the mobile. It’s obviously something important, though, because she’s close to tears when the man behind the counter tells her it’s not there. ‘But I need it today,’ she pleads. ‘I’ve got a card saying to collect it.’ ‘Not from me,’ the man replies. ‘It says call between eight and 12.’ A shrug: ‘Well it’s not here.’ ‘What shall I do?’ Another shrug: ‘Might be here later.’ ‘Shall I come back later then?’ ‘No point.’ ‘Why?’’We’ll be closed.’ There’s a glint in his eye; it’s clearly the best bit of his day. This is a public service that
the Communications Workers Union is battling to keep public, staffed by public servants who get their kicks from doing their damnedest to alienate their natural supporters. Yes it’s a shit job. Yes they’re undervalued and underpaid. Yes, in a world where our identities are increasingly
determined by what we buy rather than what we do, simple pride and respect at work is going out of the neoliberal window. But why do so many public service workers seem to despise the public? They can’t all be fifth columnists for privatisation.