Thursday, 4 April 2013

When One Makes Many - the new relativism

You couldn’t have scripted it better. Just as the furore over the welfare reorganisation comes into force up pops the epitome of the ‘scrounger’ trailing dead children, sexual depravity and a host of other large and small push points for the majority for the Mail and, by extension, those who support the changes, to point and say ‘See, that’s the kind of people we are funding’. So it was no surprise that Today featured Mail journalist AN Wilson using the case as an outrider to support the changes nor that the Telegraph has joined in the fun.

One point to hypocrisy. On the same program two days earlier Iain Duncan Smith had rolled out the familiar (and repeated in reference to his interview ever since) line that he would not discuss the matter on the basis of the one quoted example of a gentleman living on £53 a week. This position was thought eminently reasonable by both the Mail and The Telegraph, yet here we were on the flip side of the argument doing just that. Whilst the challenge to IDS to live on £53 a week is indeed facile, the use of the Philpott case as a battering ram for cutting welfare transcends the usual bullshit rough and tumble that has become UK politics and marches straight into offensive.

At heart the British public is being conned. Sometimes I think the British public likes to be conned, more comfortable with shouting at each other from fixed positions than thinking about the problem and debating the merits of different approaches. The middle class laugh at the Jeremy Kyle show but every day on Twitter their version is played out, entrenched views flying backwards and forwards making equally invalid claims and strident statements that move our culture nowhere and create a vista of hate and bile that seemingly grows day on day.

In one respect this should not be a huge surprise. Any viewer of Adam Curtis’ excellent ‘Century Of The Self’ can discern a move towards the primacy of the individual without resorting to that tired Thatcher quote about society. An investigation of social media postings reinforces this truism; that the majority now believe, somewhat perversely, in the triumph of their own views over those of any other sans debate. Never mind that those views are formed by download from the media organisation of their choice and are therefore 'borrowed' rather than created. Hence a family member of mixed race posts on her Facebook an article from ‘The English Patriot’ about immigrants without seeing an irony, fully inside the tent for now until those she support gain power and send her back to where she came from. (Which, given the answer is Essex would be interesting). The quality and depth of debate from the Commons to the pub have been downgraded to such an extent that it is not alarmist to suggest that we are heading towards a society where single issue politics are decided by an unholy combination of Facebook likes, Retweets and glib soundbite scoring from those in power who really should know better. The caricaturing and reduction of the role of the civil service in the political process is just one facet of this culture that allows reasoned thought to exit as public relations policy and U-turns under apparent ‘public’ pressure take hold.

This leaves us with a poor culture and a poorer society. It is irrefutable that societies with less social division and a smaller gap between the richest and the poorest function more productively and deliver a better quality of life and sense of fulfilment to their members. The current welfare debate ignores such facts to score quick political gain in those areas where votes can be harvested, all parties are engaged in a struggle for power rather than a quest for a better society for all. Ultimately, that approach leaves us all poorer, whether by cash in pocket or the wreck of the society that those of us with money negotiate. Spending power does not equate to happiness, if we could step back for a moment and consider and think before opening our mouths it is not that fanciful to think that we could yet rediscover a collective way to deal with the problems that we face.

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