The Ap­pren­tice proves the rat race is for rats

The Herald on Sunday - - WEEK IN PERSPECTIVE - An­gela Hag­gerty So­cial me­dia An­gela Hag­gerty is ed­i­tor of the Com­monS­pace on­line news and views web­site, which you can find at­mons­

IAM an Ap­pren­tice ad­dict and I’m not ashamed to ad­mit it, but I should also con­fess that I have a sadis­tic hobby of watch­ing tele­vi­sion pro­grammes – like The X Fac­tor, Ques­tion Time, The Jeremy Kyle Show – that make me want to smash my liv­ing room up.

I have no en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit what­so­ever. I can’t re­mem­ber ever hav­ing looked at an­other hu­man be­ing and won­dered how I might make a few quid out of them. When­ever I have an idea that could make for­tunes – like self-clean­ing ovens and wasp-re­pel­lent bins, which I think are fabulous pro­pos­als – I tend to have those bor­ing old con­cepts of so­cial good or prac­ti­cal­ity in mind rather than money. In­deed, I edit a news web­site funded en­tirely by read­ers, and de­spite the blood, sweat and tears of our team I still al­ways feel just a lit­tle bit cheeky when I ask read­ers to dig deep.

The same can­not be said of our Ap­pren­tice con­tes­tants. The show, headed up by Lord Alan Sugar, who du­ti­fully de­liv­ers the “I started out flog­ging choco­late teapots and made it to the top with ‘ard graft” speech (or some­thing) at least once an episode, fea­tures a group of bud­ding busi­ness part­ners al­ready mak­ing waves in their cho­sen fields. Through a process in which they show­case abil­ity and work ethic by squab­bling like a bunch of five-year-olds and stab­bing one an­other in the back so ruth­lessly it would make Michael Gove blush, Sugar dis­cov­ers which of the con­tes­tants has what it takes to en­ter into busi­ness with a guy who started out sell­ing ice to Es­ki­mos (or some­thing).

THE re­sult is the equiv­a­lent of tak­ing the very worst rep­re­sen­ta­tions of ul­tra-cap­i­tal­ist cul­ture and mak­ing them hu­mil­i­ate them­selves to make a few quid before grov­el­ling at the feet of the cock­ney king of busi­ness him­self. It re­ally is tremen­dous view­ing. The new se­ries be­gan last week and I thor­oughly en­joyed

cosy­ing up on the couch with a cuppa to watch a bunch of well-groomed, suited and booted men (be­cause the men’s team lost – ‘ ard luck, guys), ar­gue like their lives de­pended on it over fail­ing to sell enough burg­ers in their first team task.

Yes, this is the world that cel­e­brates that en­tre­pre­neur­ial spark which I just don’t have. This is my win­dow into the rat race; the cul­ture which puts money and the in­di­vid­ual first, and where any­thing and any­one get­ting in the way must be steam­rollered into busi­ness obliv­ion. This, for me, is a snap­shot of what caused the fi­nan­cial cri­sis in 2008.

The cul­ture of greed, re­branded as hard work, which is en­cour­aged and re­warded as the mea­sure­ment of in­tel­li­gence and suc­cess.

It’s the world in which every­one is viewed as a po­ten­tial trans­ac­tion in which we must sell, sell, sell in the pur­suit of hap­pi­ness and wordly goods. And it re­ally is fas­ci­nat­ing; the de­ter­mi­na­tion in these con­tes­tants would be ad­mirable if it wasn’t rooted in self­ish­ness.

This is ex­actly what the late Jimmy Reid warned about in his leg­endary inau­gu­ral speech as rec­tor of Glas­gow Univer­sity in 1972.

“A rat race is for rats,” Reid warned. “Re­ject the in­sid­i­ous pres­sures in so­ci­ety that would blunt your crit­i­cal fac­ul­ties to all that is hap­pen­ing around you, that would cau­tion si­lence in the face of in­jus­tice lest you jeop­ar­dise your chances of pro­mo­tion and self-ad­vance­ment.”

Sadly, Sugar, who I hear be­gan his ca­reer sell­ing cham­pagne to the French (or some­thing), and his Ap­pren­tice con­tes­tants ap­pear to have missed the memo. It is dis­turb­ing that we con­tinue in­still­ing these val­ues in our chil­dren, and it is in­cred­i­ble that we keep ask­ing the ques­tion of what has gone so badly wrong in so­ci­ety.

There’s no ques­tion that The Ap­pren­tice con­tes­tants are bright, in­ven­tive, creative and able, but it’s a real shame that our eco­nom­ics, our pol­i­tics and our so­ci­ety en­cour­age them to fun­nel all of that en­ergy into get­ting the best for them­selves and knock­ing every­one out of the way to do it.

You could drive your­self to de­spair won­der­ing what all these young peo­ple could be cre­at­ing if we lived in a cul­ture which didn’t mea­sure qual­ity of life by ma­te­rial riches, but in­stead by things like com­mu­nity, good health and public ser­vices, the ad­vance­ment of learn­ing, and so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Un­til we get there – be­cause we must be­lieve that one day we will – I’ll prob­a­bly carry on watch­ing Lord “I could sell pa­per to trees (or some­thing)” Sugar and his wannabe ap­pren­tices. I’ll just be sure to keep any­thing I can throw at the TV out of reach.

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