It’s been nearly a week now and I’m aware I’m far from unique in being utterly appalled by the comments of Boris Johnson as he addressed the Centre for Policy Studies with a speech lauding brutal elitism. I quote the already much maligned Johnson here, and shudder – “Whatever you may think of the value of IQ tests, it is surely relevant to a conversation about equality…”
The reference to contrasting intelligence levels (however fleeting and supposedly insignificant) being made by Johnson are highly corrosive to our society if they are allowed to take hold. They serve to encourage parts of society to cut loose from those at the opposite end of the spectrum. One end demonises the other for their lack of contribution or capacity to succeed financially, the other switches off, asking what is the point if you’re not one of the lucky ones.
Michael Young, whose values and vision The Young Foundation upholds in its efforts to tackle the structural causes of inequality, wrote and spoke extensively on the topic into which Johnson so crassly waded with his speech.
In ‘Rise of the Meritocracy’, his satire of 1958, Michael Young illustrated a world where society was governed by IQ testing, locking individuals into lives on specific rungs of a social ladder, creating classes not through blood line and birth right (an admirable outcome in isolation) but separating people into those destined for success and those condemned to failure. Your score = your position in society. Forever.
The inhumanity inherent in stripping each individual of the capacity to fulfil themselves on their own terms is plain for all to see. Confusingly however, within the very same speech that Johnson lurches towards such a dystopian future, he also complains that “too many cornflakes aren’t being given a good enough chance to rustle and hustle their way to the top” (you and I are cornflakes by the way).
Whatever you think about a world where getting to the top is a measure of success, it is plainly true that the capacity to make such moves if one wishes is completely eroded by the mentality Johnson exhibits with his references to IQ, thus bringing us right back to a point where your own capacity for fulfilment is again wrenched from your control.
Some are simply amused by Johnson’s devil-may-care style of public speaking, contradictory thought it may be, but there is a danger that others are also convinced by some of the substance of what he says (Benedict Brogran in the Telegraph seems a bit of both). We risk a truly inhuman future if we allow public opinion to turn against certain people based on dubious intelligence tests (or any other method of segmentation for that matter). If we honestly believe in an equal and just society, we cannot let remarks like this gain popularity, nor the substance of the remarks gain traction.