20161128 How can we blame Society when the society we have is the one we've allowed to develop?
I started out, this morning, to write a funny piece. I noticed that most of my Commentaries lately have been political, in one way or another, or serious. That's not a reflection of the vast majority of my thinking or of my life. I laugh a lot and I have a lot of fun and people around me laugh at my antics and at the things I say.
But as I worked on the article, it did a sudden change of direction. Actually, it took a change of direction after about .. well, no, even that's not true: it changed direction while I was thinking how to start it, before I'd even sat at the table that, in my nomadic life, is today's desk. And then it changed direction again after the second paragraph, as it became obvious that, to get to the funny piece, I had to write background, then background to background...
And, before anyone reads the first sentence of this, the background to the background, here's some background to the background to the background: don't think that this article is anti-EU. It isn't; not in the slightest. I'm just using a specific European Council document to illustrate a global problem.
Last week, the European Council published a statement called "the prevention of radicalisation leading to violent extremism." It was, in essence, a series of conclusions reached by senior EU and member state ministers and, mostly, it was a recitation of why Europe, as a geo-political region, needs to be aware of radicalisation at home. It carried some well-worn statements but, mostly, it said that Society is to blame for the radicalisation of the young for the purposes of ideology.
I, especially, draw attention to the following: "The human and social conditions which provide fertile ground for radicalisation, particularly in young people, are complex and multifaceted and may include: a profound sense of personal and/or cultural alienation, real and/or perceived grievances, xenophobia and discrimination, limited education, training or employment opportunities, social marginalisation, urban and rural degradation, geo-political interests, distorted ideological and religious beliefs, unstructured family ties, personal trauma or mental health issues."
The idea that poverty causes crime has been around since Aristotle said "poverty is the parent of crime." So called "liberals" and the Left have long used poverty as an excuse for society's ills. While poverty is, in itself, an evil that we should try to eradicate, and it is true that, in extremis, genuinely poor people do desperate things, poverty is not a cause of crime in general. It is one of society's biggest flaws that we will jail or beat or cut off the hands of a woman who steals a loaf of bread to feed her family that would otherwise starve yet we pat fraudsters on the head and ask them not to do it again.
The EU statement is an extension of the argument that crime is a result of society's failures. The irony is that that argument is one-sided, and it's produced by the side that claims to be the one that understands how best to build a responsible society.
There is an equal and opposite force of argument, which is rarely publicised, that says that crime caused by one or more of the following: an individual choice, or that it's genetic or that it's cultural. To gain an overview of this view, see http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21613303-disturbing... which is based on hard data not soft-opinion.
Those who are so willing to blame "society" conveniently forget that we, all of us, including them and those who promoted the policies they stand on, are society.
We have, for half-a-century, adopted a range of social policies that have fundamentally undermined the ability of "society" to develop along lines in which individuals
It is ironic, then, that the broad left and the broad right now agree: society is broken and it is broken because we have created a cult of individualism (on one level) that leaves many feeling ostracised, marginalised, even victimised.
It is also ironic that the left now says that education is the answer, given that, in the late 1960s and 1970s, there grew up a culture that children should learn at their own pace and in their own way, that teaching was in some way a constraint on the capability of the child. Children were encouraged to exercise free expression in their words and behaviour and control was regarded as an unacceptable fetter on the child's development. While many saw this as an abrogation of parenthood and the state's role in guiding society, its advocates claimed "it takes a village to raise a child,"
The EU's statement follows on from similar statements in many countries, both developed and developing, where concepts of statehood and citizenship (in its broader sense, not only legally) have been circulating for a long time. If anything, the EU's statement addresses only a narrow aspect of the problem.
Clearly, children must be allowed to be inventive. Also, like everyone and not as a special case, children must be safe while having freedom to enjoy their lives. It has to be recognised that safety is as much about a person's own choices as it is about the bad behaviour of a tiny minority. Therefore safety is something children must be taught: policing their environment is not the only solution.
It is society's fault, through neglectful parenting, poor schooling, un-contained peer pressure and consumerism that this has failed: put simply, if someone steals to feed a starving family member, that is a world away from someone who steals because (s)he is bullied by those who mock a failure to keep up with trends in the brand or model of training shoes, etc.
Yet, those faults are a direct reflection of the social values and objectives of the very liberals and social-policy developers who denounce them. Their argument, as displayed in the EU statement, is that we must acknowledge the failures, then do more of the same.
It is a Marxist -Maoist policy that those who do not follow the Party line must be "re-educated." The left long ago co-opted the term "intellectual" to mean those far to the left of centre. If the title is applied to anyone else, it is always qualified "e.g. right-wing intellectual." It's not quite the same as calling someone a fascist but said with the appropriate sneer, it's damned close. We must not assume that intellectualism, and therefore cleverness, is the preserve of the left and, especially, not the radical left which is where the lie that socialism and communism are products of intellectualism. Many intellectuals see through the veneer of socialism to the fact that it is merely a different form of control, frequently by non-elected committees operating, in effect, as a shadow government. We also have to recognise that exactly the same means of defeating democracy operates in countries where religion is given prominence in policy making and, in some cases, law making without those laws being tested in parliament.
Again, I emphasise that I am using the EU document only as a convenient example of a widespread approach. The EU is in step with broad-left thinking. In summary, it thinks that dissenters should be re-educated.
Here's the thing that I see. The system is broken not at the time teenagers rebel but when we fail to educate them, including teaching them self-discipline, from an early age. I could call the name of Luther and say "give me the boy at the age of seven and I will give you the man." But I'm not going to, because it's too late by then. The child is already lost if it is not taught that it is not acceptable to disturb the neighbours by shouting in the corridors of a condo building, by throwing things into other people's gardens, by running around or squealing in restaurants, etc. If we fail to teach children, from their first months, to be considerate to others, and that manipulation will result in the child getting its own way, we are already into a situation where corrective training is necessary: we are already on a path towards re-education and except for extremists - of all ideologies - none of us think re-education is something society should be involved in.
And yet that is exactly where we are. In the late 1970s, leaders of industry were already saying that they were finding it necessary to run adult literacy classes because they could not recruit workers who could read: in one particularly frightening example, Alex Trottman who then ran Ford's Dagenham plant, told the Sunday Times that such courses were vital because people could not read the safety signs that told them to press a big red button to stop the line if an accident happened. That is not the fault of the pupil: it is the fault of the parents who failed to condition the child as to the importance of learning for its own sake and the fault of the schools for failing to instil the importance of learning for the sake of society. And in both cases, it is a failure to instil basic self-discipline. Yes, there are those who, for one reason of another, find it difficult to relate to certain methods of communication (include me in that: I'm being rendered illiterate by the migration of information to graphical format - I have to repeatedly check if the sign next to a toilet is supposed to be a man or a woman because somewhere a graphic designer thinks displaying his art is more important than the clarity of his client's message). We have to work around those difficulties and recognise them: a friend has absolutely zero practical ability, he can't even build flat-pack furniture without getting into trouble (nor can I but that's because they give me pictures instead of instructions and I don't understand pictures). He can't draw or paint anything recognisable. Yet he uses words in ways that make my own writing seem ordinary and his communication ability is .. well, point proved: I can't think of a word that carries my point other than "legendary" but, of course, it isn't actually legendary. Yet, at school, he was forced to do "boy things" like metalwork and woodwork where he had absolutely no aptitude. He wasn't allowed to take Latin or Religious studies (those were for girls) nor (it follows, I suppose) cookery. Yet, now he's retired, he's one of the best and most intuitive cooks I or my friends know and even snacks around the fire at his place are as much a treat as going to a flashy restaurant with a celebrity chef. Actually, more, because he doesn't complain if we want to add salt or dip something in a ketchup or chilli sauce.
I'm convinced that one of our (i.e. Society's) failures is to fail to identify what children are good at and to develop those skills and talents. We should be doing that at an early age but we should also emphasise the traditional "3 R's."
The trouble is that education has for too long been left to those who think that discipline is a dirty word. To solve the problems that the EU rightly identifies, we need to go back to basics and ensure that the education system develops the people we are, not the people that someone else wants us to be. It should facilitate and encourage diversity of thought and capability. But the system is too focused on its fascination with diversity of colour, race and religion. We should teach without regard to those, except in special classes that, without politicising the issue, teach accurate (huge emphasis on "accurate!) history without fear or favour (when a country's education syllabus puts the Nazi treatment of the Jews in three successive years of education but ignores the equally horrific treatment of the Chinese across the whole of South East Asia by the Japanese, for example, the system is biased and flawed - yes, education in England, I'm talking about you).
We also need to look at what is taught and how it is taught. Rarely, now, is industrial history taught in schools; instead history has become a sub-set of political science. Yet, children love history: if they are taught history as fact and then invited, as a small part of the course the socio-political reasons and consequences, they will remember and they will think.
The friend I mentioned above says that he went through his entire schooling in fear of physics. He simply could not understand any of it. He's not a numbers guy just as much as he's not a carpenter or metalworker. He said that it was in his last A Level that he finally twigged physics. He says he'd had seven years of misery until the lightbulb went on and it all made sense in one, simple moment. It was in his General Studies paper, the one he laughs about and says it was the only paper that was designed for people like him who knew shed loads of stuff from general reading and self-education while the school classes really hadn't helped him much. The question had a line drawing of a dinghy with a rudder. Which way, the question asked, will the boat go if the sailor pushed the handle to the left? Today he laughs at it: "honestly, if someone had asked me that question when I was three, I'd have worked it out because the answer is common sense. After that, I understood moments and forces and all the other stuff that I just couldn't relate to through years of frustration for me and my teachers. And because I understood forces, I understood the formulae and suddenly lots of maths also made sense. There I was, half-an-hour before leaving school and suddenly everything I'd fucked up in many of my previous exams was clear. Too late: I was already marked for failure!"
And guess what, he works out how to prepare and cook (or not cook) things he's never seen before by looking at their structure: if it grows like celery, it probably works like celery. Then the only question is its taste, he says. And there's another rule he lives by in the kitchen: "if it grows together, it goes together." Try it: products from the same soil almost always compliment each other on the plate. So he uses geography and biology, without really thinking about it. And the application of heat and cold and the molecular changes they create are chemistry. "cooking in the kitchen is almost as much fun as making stink bombs in the lab," he says.
We know that the policies of the past fifty years don't work because social engineering in schools has failed and it's failed because the premise was wrong. It aimed to create a common society, but that's what those who make statements like the EU statement above are saying we should do, and do more of. It's wrong: we create inclusion not by denying diversity but by encouraging it to flourish in a controlled environment.
One of the big subjects in social science at present is the recognition that schooling has failed : in the UK, a group called "PrisonersEducation.com" started, last year, a campaign to "get 10,000 prisoners reading." But this pre-supposes that they canread. In the USA, a group called "PrisonEducation.com" promotes "a high-school degree" (whatever that is. do high-schools award degrees?) and vocational training. It says "Post-secondary education is even more effective in reducing recidivism. By far the greatest reduction comes with college education." But then it spoils its pitch by falling back onto the "poverty equals crime" argument.
It is my view that what creates crime is lack of culture and lack of discipline in the early years and a lack of a basic education. Once a child can read, write and communicate effectively (both listening and speaking), that child can create and/or exploit opportunity. Society, which includes parents, churches and schools should direct the child to create opportunities that fit with a broad, centrist, view of society.
The way to combat extremism is to create a culture of learning, thinking and communicating at an early age; it is to recognise and accept diversity but to reject extremism in all its forms; to question everything - religious extremism relies on the lie that God gave us free will but then told us to do as self-appointed religionists tell us to do. To combat adult illiteracy, we must ensure that literacy is a priority from the earliest age, and to identify what a child is good at and encourage it. The idea of putting all capabilities into the same class-room has led to a focus on the difficult (either wilful or simply having trouble) at the expense of the able. It is no coincidence, Nigel Morris-Cotterill says (www.countermoneylaundering.com) in his various works and lectures on financial crime that financial criminals are, usually, taken from the more intelligent, although not necessarily the more educated, portions of society.
The EC's document (http://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-14276-2016-INIT/en/pdf) is vitally important and it says things that need to be said. But, like almost all others ploughing the same furrow, it is looking at remedial action. What is needed is to prevent the problems developing in the first place.
Why re-programme large parts of society when you could just design in good practice?
The biggest irony of all? That socialism (including that espoused those that purport to be liberals) requires more policing of behaviour than a self-policing centrist society where courtesy and manners are the norm. In a centrist society, deviants are more readily identified and, then, they are the outsiders not the magnet towards which outsiders are drawn. People are naturally conservative. In short, as my clever man-of-words friend said this weekend, we should not reject all change but equally we should not treat every day as if it's the first day of The Revolution.
© 2016 Jefferson Galt
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