Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sticking a plaster on society will not fix it

Sometimes I find myself looking at the sky and exclaiming "why?" when I read the news. This is especially the case when I read some story about a new Government initiative to tackle, say, the lack of respect amongst the youth of today. The latest eye-catching initiative, which the Independent on Sunday have picked up on (although something tells me they only did it so they could do postmodern irony and have a skinhead flipping a V sign on the cover), is a plan to add "emotional intelligence" lessons to the National Curriculum so that children learn manners.

According to the Sindy, this is in response to recent high profile debates about civility, which was, of course contained within David Cameron's speech last week. Besides the fact that Cameron clearly hit a nerve on the subject, it seems the Government didn't listen to the rest of that speech which cited the way as the state takes more responsibility to solve problems over personal responsibility it adversely creates more of the problems it thinks it is trying to reduce.

It's probably a Cameron cliche now, but there is such a thing as society, it's just not the same thing as the state. However, as the state grows and continues to see itself as the only thing capable of solving social problems it actually diminishes the personal responsibility of individuals to the point that they say "it's the Government's job init!"

It seems clear that the the parties are agreed that there is a problem with "civility", "respect" or what you will. However, if you want to solve it you have to ask yourself the question, how did it happen? Something must have changed, and the solution to the problem is to find out which change[s] caused it in the first place, and to change them. Simply saying "we'll have manners lessons in schools" is a sticking plaster solution, you;re not actually solving the problem you're masking it.

It's not an answer that can easily be covered in a blog post, but we should be looking at a number of social changes that have been introduced over the past 25 years to find the answer. The introduction of the "rights society" (especially "human rights" which by definition of being human cover children) certainly hasn't helped. It has led to a Police force that has to tiptoe around children for fear of being accused of all sorts of things.

The slow decay of organisations like the Scouts, the Boys Brigade, Cadet Forces have played a role too. As mentioned by the Manifesto Club this has been helped along by the introduction of masses of "child protection" legislation. In the end, the broken society which we find today is of our own making by the law of unintended consequence.

Just as we are seeing with the "surveillance society" where ever greater encroachments on our liberty are pitched to us separately whilst the whole is generally ignored. So too is it true with almost all legislation, especially social policy. We find ourselves in the situation we do today because of the failure of ideology to consider the whole when it approaches change.

Unfortunately we cannot just reinstall the operating system and start again. Instead we have to look back and analyse what the consequence of past choices have actually been and consider either a rollback or an incremental fix. What we shouldn't do is just create some more laws, rules and legislation and layer even more complexity on to the broken system and cause ourselves even more headaches in the future.

1 comment:

Realpolitik said...

There has been a steady erosion of the idea of right and wrong. This is due to the theoretically quite admirable aim of lefty liberals to encourage understanding.

The trouble is that it doesn't work in practice. There is a reason why people have always been punished for doing wrong. By all means the individual can sympathise privately with wrongdoers and help them to correct their ways if they want to, but the role of governments and other formal authority figures shoudl be to enforce standards by punishment.