Foucault’s Discipline & Punish starts with a harrowing description of someone being broken on the wheel in early modern or medieval France. If I’ve understood correctly the point Foucault is making is this: we consider our modern criminal justice system with its near exclusive use of imprisonment as enlightened – a progressive and humanistic development from the cruel Middle Ages. But, this is not the case. There is a kind of inner cruelty in this disciplinary system which mirrors the vivid cruelty of the Middle Ages. Continue reading “Breaking people on the wheel 21st century style”
A zero sum equation.
A word to the students he is trying to recruit:
When Mr Younger waves the flag of a moral crusade don’t believe it. When he talks in comic book terms about defending the country from ‘evil’ don’t believe it.
Having reified everything (Russia reified as the devil; schooling as a natural process; psychiatry as science; and so on) the liberal capitalists of the West are now engaged in a curious re-inversion. In this new gambit of mystification and alienation subjective feelings are given the same status as objective facts. In policing this finds expression in new laws which define the crime in terms not of what was done measured by an objective standard, but in terms of how the “victim” felt. It is enough that someone felt harassed for a crime to have been committed. This then develops further; in this world once allegations have been made the accused is automatically guilty. – If someone was upset enough to make allegations then, by definition, they have in fact been abused.
This new standard comes out in a recent poll (much trumpeted by the Guardian) which makes, at least in its treatment in the Guardian, dramatic claims about the extent of racism in the UK today. This is some of the twisted logic:
The survey found that 43% of those from a minority ethnic background had been overlooked for a work promotion in a way that felt unfair in the last five years – more than twice the proportion of white people (18%) who reported the same experience.
Of course this finding in a poll does nothing to show that racial discrimination exists in the workplace. It could equally show that those from a “minority ethnic background” are more likely to interpret not getting a promotion as being unfair. People reporting an “experience” of how they felt is not an objective or meaningful measure of anything other than itself; more people felt it to be unfair. One can extrapolate anything one wants from that but there is no logical connection to the claim – that this reflects actual racial bias.
Ironically; it would be perfectly possible to conduct a study, valid in social science terms, in the UK. Data on ethnicity is often gathered in employment situations and could be gathered in internal promotion applications. Some kind of a study which compared promotion outcomes with qualifications and experience could produce something at least approximating to a meaningful result. (Since much of this data probably already exists we are talking here of a meta study).
But this poll shows nothing – at least relating to promotion at work. That the claim is made based on subjective feelings simply reflects a cult of the subject which is very much promoted by liberals in the West at the moment.
The Guardian often does these kinds of stories quite well. However; they never draw the obvious conclusion. The system is not ever going to be fixed by a worried / outraged article in the press and some more regulation / money.
The problems described in this article are the inevitable result of bringing the profit system into the field of social care for looked after young people. Of course if you do this calculations are going to be made on the basis of profiteering and of course this will not result in the “best care” for young people.
There may be some fields where the profit-motive can produce results which socialised production cannot. An obvious example is the case of any field in which technological innovation can be stimulated by profit and competition. It is hard not to accept, for example, that the competition between Nikon and Canon – both chasing profits – has not been the driver for the exceptional technical developments in digital cameras in the last few years.
But some fields do not require innovation. Social care is one such field. Care is care and the basics of what is needed does not change or develop over time. What is needed is not technical innovation but long-term planning and the stability that comes from this. There is no need to make profits to invest in R&D. Private companies operating in these fields are simply creaming off the profits. If the service was delivered on a socialised basis any surplus could be re-invested.
These services have been privatised so that greedy business people (in many cases US investment capital) can make lots of profits and accumulate even more capital into private hands.
The system of social care for young people taken into care in this country is frightening. If the public knew what was going on there would be widespread horror. Since the ideology of privatisation of local authority services has taken over there has been a surge in small private providers running a small number of care homes – with just a few beds per home. In some cases (probably many – I don’t have figures) these private companies are run by people who used to work in social services departments. They use their contacts and training and domain knowledge (all provided for them by the public purse) to develop their profitable private businesses. Local authorities pay whatever they are asked. There are multiple reasons for this lack of cost-control which it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss. But we can note that local authorities operate in a risk-averse environment – penalties accrue for allowing a scandal to occur but there are no rewards for taking a small risk and saving some money.
The Guardian article gives some mouthwatering ideas about costs of placing a young person in a private care home.
The author of this site worked for one shift in one of these homes. A young boy aged 12 had just arrived – he had just been taken into care and the home had just accepted his (no doubt lucrative) placement. It emerged that one of the older youths had on his file the remark that due to his sexual behaviour no younger people should be placed in the same home as him. Fortunately, one of the staff remarked, this was just a comment and not a legal ruling so the home was able to ignore it when taking the placement of the younger boy. This is precisely the kind of decision making based on financial motives which occurs when you have a privatised market. And it is harmful to young people. In this case definitely so; during the night – I heard a scream from the bedrooms – I am 100% sure this was the 17 year old pedophile introducing himself into the bed of the new arrival (the 12 year old).
The arguments about ‘efficiency’ with which the public were sold large-scale privatisation in the 80s are massively overstated. The costs, especially in sectors, which should be embodying social values, were never considered.
There are similar problems in the system of local authority funded care for the elderly. As private care homes go bust their elderly victims are turfed out and dumped in hospital wards.
Money won the argument. Care lost. Articles like the one linked to above in the Guardian can highlight the problems – but it will take more than a little bit of regulation to fix. Some “services” can only be properly provided on a socialised basis. The left – what remains of it – should at least focus on bringing social care, prisons, probation and education back into the state sector.
The Guardian has been running a series of exposes this week about poor conditions in the private rented sector; stories include tales of neglect by landlords who live abroad, and landlords who have been prosecuted able to continue letting.
Up to a point, good journalism.
But – the call is for more regulation, and this isn’t going to get us anywhere. The landlords, their allies in parliament, the resistance of the bureaucracy to do anything which transfers power to the powerless will always make sure that any regulation is tokenistic only. For example; the government has announced that tenants will be able to access a database of ‘rogue landlords’ run by local authorities. But, in reality, how many desperate people – those in the market for a slum property run by a slum landlord – will be in a position to check this database? In reality, people who are desperate enough to be considering a slum property don’t have the luxury of selecting their landlord – on any criteria.
In general all attempts to regulate private greed and exploitation of the powerless start from the premise of legitimising greed and exploitation. It is not permitted to do anything to call into question the founding principles of capitalism – and so the regulation is necessarily toothless. At best regulation is designed to hide some of the very worst excesses which bring the system as a whole into disrepute.
A few personal experiences by the author of this site. At one point he rented a small flat in Oxford from a private landlord. They seemed quite friendly. I paid the deposit and moved in. After a few months some problems developed with a boiler. It had become furred up and started making a terrible racket at night – causing me sleepless nights. I tried to contact the landlords. When I’d met them they had appeared to live just round the corner so I didn’t think this would be a problem. However – after multiple attempts to contact them it seemed that this was not the case. In the end I discovered that they were living in the Caribbean – presumably on the rent I was paying them. After 3 sleepless months they finally managed to send someone round to fix the boiler..
On another occasion I rented from a private “buy-to-let” landlord in a small town in Oxfordshire. He had to be pressed to take away the rubbish left by the last tennant and he eventually did so, albeit making a fuss about it. Once he’d done that I moved in. As he handed over the keys he said, “these modern houses run themselves”. I.e. don’t call us if it needs any repairs.
Both these people (who were a long way from the kind of slum landlords exposed by the Guardian) were lazy and keen to make money out of someone else’s need. Neither had much sense of social solidarity. They are quite happy to see other people, not as brothers, but as objects to be exploited to make themselves rich. Such thinking and behaviour is of course not simply normalised in capitalism; it is an expression of capitalism’s founding principles. At its basis is an indifference to others; a willingness to exploit them and not care what that does to them. In the Soviet Union such behaviour was illegal; a crime.
The Guardian’s call for more regulation will change nothing. If we want the problems exposed by the Guardian to end the only way to do this is to outlaw private renting altogether and for the state to take responsibility for providing social housing. Private greed is private greed – it never has a pretty face – and making it jump through a few tokenistic regulatory hoops is no more than applying a dab of powder to it. It is fundamentally ugly.
This article by Guardian columnist Owen Jones is a statement of the new credo.
Owen is up in arms because Sky News has interviewed Tommy Robinson (founder of the English Defence League). Owen says that “The far right is not a legitimate political perspective”. Its spokespeople should not be heard. Giving them a “platform” i.e. interviewing them, legitimises their bigotry and hatred. Owen argues that if we allow the principle that people with irrational beliefs and “any old idea” can legitimately be interviewed by the media then “why aren’t we holding prime-time debates about how the earth is flat”? It appears that Owen Jones would also like to ban interviews about whether the earth is flat.
The problem with this is simple and obvious. Who decides what is “irrational” and “any old idea”? The whole idea of a rational democracy is that the people, who are assumed to be capable of making their own rational assessments, make these decisions. And they can only make these decisions if they can hear the views. Despite his (strategic and transparent) attempts to distance himself from the ‘liberal media’ Owen Jones is simply re-iterating one of its core beliefs; a self-appointed elite should decide what goes and what does not go in terms of what is considered acceptable debate. By defining what can and cannot be debated they hope to short-circuit debate and simply force their views through. (Another example of this was how in the run-up to a parliamentary vote on gay marriage the then Equalities Minister announced that there would be a period of public debate and then, a few days later, said that anyone who disagreed with the proposal was a bigot and their views could not even be countenanced).
The only solid argument that Owen Jones offers to support his banning call is that the Finsbury Park mosque bomber had seen online videos by Tommy Robinson. However; the problem with this argument is that publishing material which incites racial or religious-based hatred are already arrestable offences in the UK. If the Finsbury Park bomber really was ‘radicalised’ by Tommy Robinson’s videos (as Jones quotes a senior police officer as saying) then the question is – why had the police not arrested Robinson (and required ISPs to remove the videos?). The law already provides precisely the protection which Owen is now seeking to obtain through a banning of media interviews. Not only does it provide this protection but – just because it is the law – and not the arbitrary legislation of self-appointed guardians of the airwaves – it provides a rational mechanism for determining what is hate-speech and what is legitimate debate. There may well be a serious set of questions to ask concerning why the police had not arrested Robinson for publishing material “stirring-up” hatred of religious groups (if that is what he is doing) – but the call for a media ban is something else. A media ban is a blanket ban on a person or organisation – once enforced the banned people cannot say anything at all. It is characteristic of the new progressives (or modern liberals – despite Jones’s attempt to distance himself from the tag ‘liberal’ he is indeed a representative of modern liberalism) that they like, where possible, to bypass the due process and considered judgements of the courts in favour of blanket bans which they control. While no doubt Jone’s cause is in many ways a worthwhile one (tolerance is a better value than intolerance) he is closer to Nazi book-burnings than he might think.
The other problem with the idea of a media ban is that it will probably not, as Jones appears to believe, somehow make intolerance and racism go away. The bigotry which Jones is concerned about is rooted in the real experience of hundreds of thousands of people, maybe millions, in the UK. Guardian journalists probably do not feel the heat of economic competition from immigrants. But many do. Owen Jones himself might not mind his children being forced to eat cruelly slaughtered halal meat at school because the local authority has a policy that all meat is halal – but does this mean that those who object are bigots? The only valid crucible in which what is a reasonable (but different) point of view and what is simply a hate-crime can be tested is the crucible of public debate – and, when a conclusion is reached, though the process of legislation and judgement in a court.
Owen’s piece, linked to above, is a clear example of the credo of modern progressives (liberals) that seeks to bypass the ‘old’ approach of rational debate and legislation and replace it with a new approach where a very narrow metropolitan elite of political and media figures decide for everyone else what is right and wrong.
This Guardian article about the use of isolation in schools in the UK is a case study of docile bodies.
Notice the cynical hand-washing statement from the Department of Education. Notice too the connection with OFSTED. That is – the pressure to produce good OFSTED reports is part of the pressure which drives these kinds of excessive punishments.
Notice too the language in the statement from one of the School Trusts: the students will “self-correct”. They might as well be talking about a self-driving car. The distinction between a machine and a human being is lost. Young people are quite literally being treated and trained as efficient automatons. This is the “freedom” and “democracy” we wage wars all over the world to bring to people?
Obviously it is completely barbaric to do this to young people. Strange that in this world where at every breath the authorities claim to be concerned about the welfare of young people and “Safeguarding” this is passed through on the nod.
And finally, we can say as a matter of certainty that a few parents complaining and getting an article in the Guardian is not going to change anything. This is a vicious country and this is just part and parcel of that viciousness.