“It’s a little hard for the rest of us to muster sympathy for Quebec’s downtrodden students.” wrote the paragon of privilege Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail a couple of weeks ago.
And my thought is ‘when has Margaret Wente ever mustered sympathy for anyone but herself?’
When I think about it, Wente is the perfect champion for people of her age and class. Her writing never escapes those two limitations.
Wente grew up in Chicago, went to university in Michigan then moved to Toronto, all around the same time I grew up in Victoria. Tuition was cheap then and she got two Arts degrees before moving on to a well paid career in journalism.
Let’s be clear. Compared to the average student today, Wente’s been on easy street her entire life. She benefited from a period when both the economy and social change made it easier for a person like her to succeed.
That’s no longer true. Power has shifted. The world has changed. Class lines are more firmly drawn and its harder to cross them. The state is shrinking, help is diminishing and those who have are grabbing more of what wealth is produced.
Wente writes as if this has just happened. And students should just shut up and deal.
“They’re the sociology, anthropology, philosophy, arts and victim studies students, whose degrees are increasingly worthless in a world that increasingly demands hard skills,” says the holder of two English degrees.
“The world will not be kind to them. They’re the baristas of tomorrow and they don’t even know it, because the adults in their lives have sheltered them and encouraged their mass flight from reality.”
But Wente has an agenda too. The flight she’s encouraging is away from any thought of change.
The economy just is. The trends towards greater and greater inequality just are. The fact that Wente and her buddies happen to be amongst the few who enjoy the benefits can’t be changed.
Wente and privileged people like her have good jobs, rising incomes, excellent and secure pensions and a better life than their parents. Wente, like too many of her generation and class, are fighting tooth and nail to keep it all, to keep all the gains they’ve made in the last thirty years at the expense of the majority.
She argues that this is just the way it is. But that’s not true. Decisions were made, governments elected and policy changed. The new world of inequality was made through deliberate choices.
And Wente’s writing has consistently provided support for those choices.
It matters nothing to her that her generation and class has left behind an economic, social and ecological mess that the students she attacks will have to deal with. Wente and her ilk have, for the first time in a long time, made our country worse for generations to come.
“The kids are on another planet” Wente says.
What she means is ‘I’m on another planet and I’m damn well not going to share it with you’.