Hanley's chief interest here is how we should think about the costs and benefits of social mobility. The political Right, says Hanley, likes social mobility because it satisfies some measure of fairness, giving the "deserving" the chance to move up in the world (and contribute to the economy along the way). But it also allows the Right to ignore or neglict the people who don't move. The hard Left, in contrast, dislikes social mobility because it erodes working-class solidarity and suggests a belief that up on the social ladder is by definition better.Hanley writes a lot about music, because music is, or is seen as, one way to get rich without giving up the attitudes of the working class.
Hanley positions herself to the Left of centre, but the truth is that she is ambivalent about a lot of these questions, and that ambivalence comes through – sometimes consciously, sometimes less so. On the one hand she deplores the attitude of her old school teachers, who, taking their tone from Margaret Thatcher's government, seemed to think that many of her classmates were unteachable and didn't deserve to learn. Yet she also writes at length about how working-class culture seems not to support the idea that children can "improve" themselves – partly because society and the government keep telling them they're no good, so not striving is a way of sticking up two fingers at the establishment, and partly because working-class culture values "loving people for who they are", while working-class parents guess, rightly in many cases, that social mobility will mean their eventual alienation from their children. . . .
The sociological problem has a psychological equivalent, which Hanley writes about well: her obvious feelings of embarrassment and guilt at being the kind of dutiful student who escaped her roots, mingled with her pride and delight escaping. "The difficulty comes when you have a thought that goes along the lines of 'I believe life can be better than this'; a thought which is then interpreted by other people as 'You believe you're better than me.'"
I have thought about this recently in the context of stories about kids from impoverished or minority backgrounds who feel alienated in college. Hand-wringing about the lack of institutional support they get misses the basic truth that Hanley lived, the ambivalence of leaving where you came from and becoming something else.
Jason Isbell even wrote a song about this, The Last of My Kind:
Tried to go to college but I didn't belongTo think that every smart kid ought to go to college, and that we ought to do everything we can to help them, is to make a judgment that an educated, middle-class life is better than a working-class life spent among familiar surroundings and familiar people. I won't lie, that's how I feel. But the older I get the less interest I have in imposing my own ideas about the good life on others.
Everything I said was either funny or wrong