b }olin Major (who wanted to equalizerneervone downward, to assuage his ownrnfeehngs of soeial ineptitude) is close atrnhand.rnDumbing down is also helped alongrnbv egalitarian politicians and cultinalrnprominenti seeking to open up culturalrnlife to the “socially excluded” (anotherrncontemporary cliche, normally used torndescribe potential clients or voters). Accordingrnto these people, the human ides,rnthe arts, and polities are unjustly underrnthe control of unrepresentative elites.rnThese elites, the’ allege, have so structuredrntheir respective fiefdoms that it isrnextremely difficult for sexual, economic,rnor racial outsiders to penetrate into therncharmed circles the presently control.rnForcibK opening these fields to otliers,rnthe’ argue, will help to ensure equalit) ofrnoutcome and, thus, eternal bliss (cue ambientrnmusic and heartwarming WatchtowerrnY>[chncs).rnThese days, the eil elitists are invariablvrnmembers of the “white middle classes,”rnwhose dominance in the arts was decriedrnb “Gern ” Robinson, Labour’s appointeernas chairman of the Arts Council. (“Gerry,”rnlike “Tony,” is et another sign of NewrnLabour’s false honhomk, itself an aspect ofrndumbing down.) Reduce evervthing to itsrnessentials, demstif everything, replacernthe old administrators or intelligentsia withrnnew ones, and even,-one will participate inrncultural life on equal terms (or so the argumentrngoes). “Social exclusion” will be arnthing of the past, as will that blackest ofrnmodern evils, “in.stitutional racism.”rnThe great problem with this pleasantrntheor’ is that not evervthing can be simplified.rnComplex ideas are complexrnideas, however you dress them up (orrndown). Learning certain things s7;o!;/cfrnrec|uire mental application, as AlexanderrnPope’s eautionar’ words remind us. Furthermore,rnloose talk about “exclusion”rnand selfish elites breeds division. Manyrnpeople will never have any interest in goingrnto museums or symphony concerts —rnhowexer “accessible” something is madernto seem, or however many cheap ticketsrnare made available. (Accessibility andrncheap tickets are, of course, ver’ differentrnthings. After the Royal Opera House’srn£45-million refurbishment, designed tornmake it less “exclusive,” the cheapestrnseats actually became more expensive.)rnSo wh’ not let these people be? And wh’rnforce those who are interested to subsidizernthose who arc not?rnIt is also undeniable that the created illusionrnof ever tiling being miivcrsall)rncomprehensible and attainable makesrneverything feel somehow cheap andrntawdry. As Rivarol said, “It is the dim hazernof mystery that lends enchantment to pursuit.”rnThis mania for mediocritv’was seenrnin an exaggerated form at the opening ofrnthe Dundee Museum of Modern Art,rnwhose first resident artist worked underrnthe condition that the public would bernable to watch him at work and make suggestionsrnabout his paintings. Behind therncraze for easy comprehensibilib.’ is somehmesrnthe ignorance of the governing classrnitself For example, an early I .abour administrativernreform was to rename thernDepartment of National Heritage the Departmentrnof Culture, Media, and Sport—rnthe choice of words revealing that the governmentrnviews sport and culturalrnachvihes as being of equal dignity and importance.rnThe present head of this department,rn”Chris” Smith, has stated thatrnthere is no qualitative difference betweenrnKeats and Bob Dylan.rnRemoving one unrepresentative appointeernmeans that an immediate needrnarises for his replacement—a new appointment!rnLike the renaming of the Departmentrnof National Heritage, the government’srnlaughable, short-lived plan tornwithhold funding from museums thatrnfailed to attract an appropriate quota ofrnblack visitors was intended as a means ofrnmelting down cultural homogeneity—rnreal or perceived. The results of this generalizedrndiscrimination again.st intellectualrnendeavor, inventiveness, and individualismrnare plain to see—except to Guardianrncolumnists and Tony Blair.rnDumbing Down is an antholog}’ of 29rnessays from an eclectic range of authors,rnfrom deceased conservative philosophersrnand sitarist Ravi Shankar to a left-wingrnLabour MP. It is one of those annoyingrnbooks that makes von realize how muchrnthere is that you still have not read —andrnprobably never will. But tiien, that is allrnthe more reason to be grateful to editorrnIvo Mosle for bringing such neglected,rnimportant writings to our attention.rnMoslcy’s own writing displays occasionalrnineleganeies (e.g., “we may berndoubly stitched up”). But he is a boldrnand original thinker who combinesrnGreen politics not with the usual politicalK’rncorrect neuroses but w ith an awarenessrnof how “the abolition of traditionsrnand tiicreforc the pasf and “the creationrnof a new and ersatz national identih'” actrnto unsettle people. Plis familial connections-rnhe is Sir Oswald’s grandson —arerna cause of some embarrassment to him.rnbut he does not make the mistake of tryingrnto overcompensate (although he doesrndescribe jazz and Motown music as “arnnew form of high culture from one of thernFarth’s most disadantaged nations:rnBlack America”). And he notes the centralrnparadox of dumbing down: the doublernstandards of the left-wing elite whorn[pretend] in public to believe thatrnthe people are the source of all yvisdom;rnbut among themselves. . . sayrnthe people do not know what is bestrnfor themselves and need to haverntheir interests interpreted for them.rnThat simplifying things in order that thernmasses can understand them is fundamentallyrnpatronizing and elitist in itselfrnseems to escape both the patronizers andrnthe patronized.rnThere are weaknesses in this volume,rnof course. The aforementioned LabourrnMP deplores that goxemment by soundbiternhas replaced the civilized “governmentrnby conversation” characteristic ofrnearlier Westminster eras. Naturally, hernseems never to have considered how hisrnown brand of polities has helped to oustrnthe public-school elite who made tiie oldrnsystem work because the were cut fromrnthe same cloth and understood each otherrnintuitively. (Ironically, he is himselfrnan Old Etonian.) His essay would havernbeen more interesting had he examinedrnhow politicians play to the gallery, dmnbingrndown polities b reducing complexrnissues to slogans like “Save tiie NHS.”rnHis essay, the defense of soundbites byrnAdam Boulton, and Redmond Mullin’srncall for state funding of volnntan,’ bodiesrnare tiie least convincing contributions tornthis collection. Roger Deakin’s piecernabout the National Lottery seems a littlernoyer the top: “The Lottery . . . is a patronizingrnwheeze, premised on immoderaterngreed.” (I write as someone who wouldrnnot dream of buying a lottery ticket.) HelenrnOppenheimer’s piece on truth-tellingrnseems slightl}- out of place, although shernand Mosley would doubtiessly argue thatrnmoral relativism is an essential ingredientrnof dumbing down. Demelza Spargo insists,rnquite correctly, tiiat we can only revivernsociety by living more modestiy, inrngreater harmon” with nature —but again,rnthe essay does not necessarily belong withrnthe others. So much is packed into thisrnbook, finally, that it becomes a little disorienting.rnAlthough there are hardlv anyrnKpos, no biographical details are proidedrnfor one of the authors.rnSEPTEMBER 2001/27rnrnrn