The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘society’

To Generation Y, The Big Society Is A Tough Sell

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 19, 2010 @ 11:11

It seems our invitation has some rather large strings attached...

It seems the “launch” of the Big Society press exercise is going to be nothing more than a guilt trip.

In reality though, how can it be anything else? The world has moved on. Communities are fragmented, populations moving around all the time, and mistrust of neighbours is a rather common occurrence, just because we don’t know who they are.

David Cameron can hardly legislate to change any of that. You can’t pass a law that makes people have a cup of tea with their neighbour, or attend the Reverend’s village fête, perhaps baking some cupcakes for the hungry attendees, or sticking a bottle of unwanted generic gin in the tombola. It’s all very rural England, don’t you think?

Society is moribund and has been for some time, certainly amongst my generation. Our idea of society, sadly, is what it can do for us. We’re a generation that feels pretty shafted in terms of unemployment, dodgy education systems, ridiculous house prices, and seeing most of our taxes go to finance massive deficits run up by our elders or going as election bribes to the oldest generations. As such, we’re a bit a bit suspicious of “society”. We truly are Thatcher’s children.

Now we are getting some different mood music. First, we’re being told that what we get in return for being members of this society is going to be cut, at precisely the time most of us are going to start using it in child benefits, child tax credits, NHS and education systems, etc.

Then we’re being told that money is not sufficient – that, instead, we need to get involved. Our time, precious enough already due to work and stupid amounts of commuting, is going to be called upon as free labour because the government can’t afford to pay people to, for example, clean up the parks or beaches any more.

I’m painting a picture of a rather selfish generation. Maybe we are. Forgive us, but we’ve been brought up that way. Capitalism did win, after all.

The worst aspect of all of this is that who is actually listening? When the reputation of politics is at an all time low, and the power of the politicians to compel us to be better members of society is almost non-existent, how will it be possible to achieve this grand Big Society?

It all sounds nice, harking back to a bygone age of community spirit. Maybe it would be nice to see some of that again. I would like to give something where I can, but it’s a tough sell. And if it’s just a cynical exercise in cost-cutting, then you won’t see any of us for dead.

Over to you, Mr Cameron.


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Societal Failure Starts Early. Very Early.

Posted by The Futility Monster on February 15, 2010 @ 09:53

Hilariously, the top three Google Images results for "feral youths" all came from the nation's favourite right-wing newspaper...

Yet another report this morning highlights just how important the early years for children are

Children from the poorest homes are almost a year behind middle class pupils in language skills by the time they start school, research suggests.

Labour’s immediate defence (not yet though) will be to say that it proves their SureStart programme is the right idea, and that the Tories want to scrap it, etc. etc: a message that is somewhat unclear, because some reports say the Tories won’t scrap it, while others say they will cut money from its budget.

But in this case, I’m not interested in the partisan hackery. We’ve had enough of that over the past few days regarding the issue of care for the elderly.

This time, the point is simple. Study after study is showing that the biggest “damage” is done to a child’s prospects before they even enter school. Indeed, the sceptics might argue that all school does is merely nurture a child’s abilities as they get older and turn them into what has essentially already been pre-determined for them by the facts of their early childhood.

A very depressing argument, but there has to be some element of truth to it. After all, why is it that bad schools tend to be in “bad” areas, with high levels of poverty, unemployment, and general deprivation? And that this just never seems to change, decade in, decade out?

Time and again, the evidence shows that early intervention is the only way we can tackle the long-term nature of the underachievement from the difficult estates of Britain.

Such a platitude is very easy to say, however, without defining what we mean by “intervention”. And that’s where it begins to get tricky.

Parenting classes are the solution offered by The Sutton Trust, the ones who sponsored this research. Only problem is that you’re broadly dealing with people who, let’s just say, aren’t the sharpest tools in the box in the first place. How much will they be able to absorb and actually put into practice?

More money spent on the right things might help, but in our short-termist mentality it’s just not doable, even though it would probably pay itself back in the long run.

So are we talking then about very aggressive intervention? Social workers and health visitors keeping a very close eye on the development of children? It doesn’t sound very liberal, does it? Where do we stop after that: will people be required to take an IQ test before they’re allowed to reproduce?

Nobody ever said democracy was easy.

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To Ride Or Not To Ride

Posted by The Futility Monster on November 2, 2009 @ 10:17


Everyone's a fruit and Nutt case...

The controversy in recent days over Home Secretary Alan Johnson’s sacking of his chief drugs adviser has been a joy to watch.

It seems the biggest problem was caused when Professor David Nutt asserted that riding a horse was more dangerous than taking ecstasy. Yes, it’s quite a surprising soundbite. No one would ever expected something so apparently genteel and middle-class as horse riding could possibly be equated with 20-30 somethings popping a pill to enhance their enjoyment of a good night out. Oh no.

If you’ll pardon the pun, Nutt’s comment must have frightened a few horses in Number 10 to elicit his sacking.

What we have here is a classic case of reality versus fantasy. On the one hand, we have a professor, an esteemed scientist, backed by a large number of his peers on a government appointed body tasked with looking at the evidence to inform sensible policy making. On the other hand, we have a society, comprising prejudices, social norms, cultural values and a big dollop of old wives’ tales.

Which side do political parties invariably come out on?

We place such a low value on evidence in policy making. After all, why let the facts get in the way of the beliefs you’ve held for many decades? So what if the evidence shows that prison doesn’t work? So what if burning the poppy fields in Afghanistan makes no difference to the amount of drugs on the world’s streets? So what if Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction…

George W. Bush ran his administration on faith that he had all the answers without needing to check if the ends justified the means. His religious values resulted in policies that made no difference, and made some things worse, but I guess made him feel a warm fuzzy glow inside that he was doing God’s work. Abstinence only “sex education”. Bans on stem-cell research. Restriction of the use of abortion. A belief in American exceptionalism so strong that its alleged ideology should be exported across the planet in spite of what the recipients actually want.

Our politics must have no place for this. When the facts change, and the facts are showing that current policies are doing more harm than good, we need our politicians to be flexible enough to respond. Not pursue dogmatic agendas in the hope that they’ll curry favour with the Daily Mail, Rupert Murdoch or the mythical beast that is middle England.

What does all this mean for ideology? These days, it largely doesn’t exist anyway. Some believe in more state control, others more individual liberty. But in the modern era, when science is answering more and more questions about the fundamentals of life, we cannot stick our fingers in our ears and carry on regardless.

Where science doesn’t give us the answers, such as on the economy (I don’t necessarily count economics as a science) then there is a little more scope for politicians to go with their gut instinct.

But otherwise, in the most ridiculous forced-choice question in history, if someone put a gun to my head and said, “Ride the horse or take the chill pill” I think I know which way I’d go…

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We Should Listen to Iain Duncan Smith

Posted by The Futility Monster on September 17, 2009 @ 06:33

It's hard to imagine him with hair, but there you go...

It's hard to imagine him with hair, but there you go...

I would never have believed that those six (seven?) words would ever pass my lips/fingers… but they have done.

A couple of months ago I wrote this post in which I laid out my case that the system in this country was severely failing the working class.

Yesterday Iain Duncan Smith’s work for the Centre for Social Justice unveiled a blueprint of exactly what’s wrong with the benefits system. And, in most places, it was an excellent piece of work.

Yes, the system does penalise work. It is madness that you can go out and get a job and end up worse off than you would be without it. OK, maybe we need to draw a line somewhere – as anyone can get a couple of hours a week cleaning job, and it might be wrong to subsidise that – but we should be looking to reward aspiration and positive behaviour where possible.

And yes, even if it means subsidising them. That was originally the whole point of the working tax credit, but it has a number of limitations that mean not everyone can claim it – e.g. why should it be that people under 25 cannot claim it?

We do need some extremely radical thinking on the benefits system. This doesn’t mean arbitrary slashing and burning to try to save money. Indeed, there is a case that in the short term the reforms proposed by IDS would cost more.

What we need is a wholesale rethink of what welfare is for and what ends we are trying to encourage with it. It needs to do more to reach those parts of the country where people are allowed to get away with never working, never contributing to society, and setting appalling examples to their children regarding work ethics. That seems to be one of IDS’ goals – and we should not dismiss his ideas so lightly.

One other idea he floats is the withdrawal of benefits to those earning over £30,000. This, to me, is also a desirable goal. In these hard times we cannot afford it, but on principle too – if you’re earning over the average wage of the country (and even more than the median) – it doesn’t seem right that the state should continue to finance you. We don’t want a client state where everyone has a dependency on their income from welfare, even those who never needed it in the first place but now get it via the Child Tax Credit system – which continues paying benefits up to £50,000!

IDS is on to a winner with his suggestion that 51 benefits can be reduced into two. Reducing complexity will save bureaucracy… and it will make it easier to claim. One of my worries over means-tested benefit is that the ones that really need most are often the ones who don’t claim. Maybe having a very small number of them will make things easier.

We don’t know for sure. But the price of continued failure in our benefits system is high and mounting.

IDS may just have given us a neat, bipartisan, way forward.

Shame the Tories are probably going to ignore it.

But we should never underestimate the determination of a Quiet Man.

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Posted by The Futility Monster on September 16, 2009 @ 06:35

Well, I know it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, but I shouldn't admit to that or I'll be getting barred from working with children and vulnerable adults...

Well, I know it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, but I shouldn't admit to that or I'll be getting barred from working with children and vulnerable adults...

The government likes its three letter acronyms.

A few years ago, in response to the Bichard Inquiry, Labour decided to implement a brand new “vetting and barring” scheme.

As usual, it was a typical Whitehall reinvention of the wheel. The government already had its own vetting and barring scheme. It had existed for a long time in the guise of things like List 99, a central list of undesirable people that we didn’t want working with children, based on criminal records and intelligence.

But this was insufficient. The government decided it would be better farmed out to an “independent” agency.

The Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) was born.

Why a new agency? It has long been suspected that the real reason behind this outsourcing was so that the government could wash their hands of responsibility. The government’s calculation was that, one day, an abuse would again occur involving a person not on List 99 – such as what happened with Ian Huntley. Too many questions were already being asked as to why Huntley slipped through the net, some of them rather uncomfortable (e.g. the case of Kim Howells clearing a registered sex offender for a PE teacher’s job). So taking these kind of decisions out of the hands of politicians would, indeed, be politically desirable.

The problem here is that many years earlier, the government created an agency to collate and try to ensure that the system was much tighter. It was called the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB).  Charged with issuing Disclosures on people, based upon nationwide police criminal records checks and intelligence, it is, ostensibly, a neutral organisation which provides employers with information and allows them to take the final decision based on what they receive back from the check.

While they are subtly different – ISA takes decisions on people’s suitability, but the CRB only provides the information required for the decision – they were still overlapping sufficiently that, at first, the CRB were told to prepare to take on the new vetting and barring scheme. They did so, spending money and time in the process. After all, they were ideally placed to deal with this new function in-house. They

Then the government pulled the plug and decided that a new layer of bureaucracy was exactly what the country needed.

This woeful tale is yet another example of the failure of modern politics.

Firstly, the  creation of new bureaucracy when the existing system could be adapted is a ridiculous waste of time, money, will cause needless duplication of resources and will doubtless result in poor communication between the ISA and the CRB.

Secondly, the propensity of the modern politician to farm decisions out to quangos and other bodies (e.g. strategic health authorities, foundation hospitals, trust schools, academies…) means a lack of ministerial responsibility and accountability.

And thirdly, on principle, as we have seen in the news lately, the whole thing is going to lead to a further gross infringement on liberty and a redefinition of the fundamental relationship between adults and children in society.

Who knows where that will lead.

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Is Martin Kettle Right?

Posted by The Futility Monster on September 11, 2009 @ 06:37

Maybe we need one of these right next to Parliament...

Maybe we need one of these right next to Parliament...

The internet is filled with comment these days. but one of my favourite columnists is still Martin Kettle of the Guardian. And today, he wonders whether the Lib Dems should be doing better

His point is simple. We have been right on a range of issues: “the economy, Europe, ID cards, Iraq and localism… climate change, police powers, tax [and] electoral reform”.

Very nice of him to say so. Yes, we do indeed have some good policies in these areas. So why aren’t we doing better? Kettle’s diagnosis is three-pronged:

  1. The David Cameron effect
  2. The senior party has been institutionalised
  3. Britain just ain’t that liberal after all

It’s a tempting argument. For sure, the David Cameron effect is very powerful. Polls are now showing that a plurality of Lib Dem voters, when forced to choose between Labour and the Conservatives, will opt for Cameron’s party. If even our own party backers are being lured by the love-bombing, what does it say for everyone else?

David Cameron’s strength has been his ability to solidify the hardcore Tory vote – many of whom, out of pure fatalism, sat on their hands in 1997 and 2001 – and, meanwhile, pull in all the waverers, floating voters from all parties and even some of the non-voters. That’s why they consistently poll in the 40% region now, and have done so for a good while.

For Kettle’s second point, it also has the ring of truth to it. There are now a wide range of other third-parties that the electorate can choose from if they want to give the establishment a kicking. UKIP, Greens and now the continual assaults on the BNP have reduced them to martyr status. Anyone who really wants to piss off a politician only has to even contemplate voting BNP to be doing the system a disservice. It has been a mistake to treat the BNP in this way; personally I think it’s given them a lot more support than they would have had otherwise.

Kettle points to our failure in parliamentary by-elections too. In our defence, they haven’t exactly been winnable, though in times gone by I think we would have won a seat like Henley. The real problem here is related to his first point: in the past the Tories and Labour have always been ripe for a kicking (depending on who had the seat in question), and the way to do that was to vote Lib Dem. Nowadays, the Tories have been out of power for so long, and are now perceived as the government-in-waiting, that they have broken their by-election curse.

His final point is the most difficult for our party. Are we not a liberal nation after all? Kettle doesn’t offer any evidence, but perhaps I’ll take up the mantle…

We may well be right on ID cards, but they’re still popular. We may well be right on CCTV, but everyone still wants the whole nation camera’d up. We may well be right on detention without charge, but it remains a popular policy to extend it.

This is the battle we’re in, and why the party leadership will avoid all those issues in a General Election. Of course, those smart media guys and our opposition will still bring them up anyway to try to embarrass us.

I genuinely believe that we do not value our liberty as much as we used to. In the post 9/11 age, we are prepared to give away huge amounts of our freedoms in the name of security. But meanwhile, our lives go on in the same way as they always have done. It’s been so long since the last serious threat to our existence in World War II that we’re forgetting the conception of liberty we’re supposed to be defending.

Because we no longer appreciate that these liberties we have, and once had, took generations to secure, wrestled from the grip of tyrannical dictators and “our betters”, we are more prepared to sell our ancestors short. Trial by jury? Well, maybe a judge sitting on his own is better. Secret evidence? Well, we wouldn’t want to reveal our sources, would we? Refugees and asylum seekers? Sorry, Britain’s full.

No. The British just aren’t that liberal any more. Maybe we never were. Maybe all of our liberal heritage sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in the 18th century…

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Replacing Religious Community

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 13, 2009 @ 08:35

Insert sickening and obligatory clichéd representation of "community" here

Insert sickening and obligatory clichéd representation of "community" here

As silly season is in full flow, this morning I’m turning my attention to an issue that has bugged me for a little while.

A few months ago, I attended the christening of some distant member of my family that I know nothing about and have never heard from since. The event took place, as they do, in a church.

But this wasn’t any ordinary church. It was one of the most interesting church services I’ve ever been to. As an atheist, and well known in my family, it is often quipped that “it’s a wonder the place doesn’t fall down when you go in”. Yes, there is little tolerance for “heathens” in my family.

Anyway, the thing that made the service interesting was the extraordinary amount of community spirit there. The church was packed to the rafters, not just with the old dears trying to earn some religious-capital with the Big Man before they shuffle off this mortal coil. No, it was filled with families and children.

This made the atmosphere very different. First of all, it was noisy and loud, even when the vicar was speaking. But it was when we finally reached the “homily” part of the service that I got an understanding of why.

It seems that this particular vicar was a big fan of treating his church as an integral part of the community. The welcome there was phenomenal: from asking if you’d like a cup of tea, coffee or orange juice (for the kids, but, being a big kid at heart, I had to have one…) on the way in, to an entire ethos of family friendliness. No one was bothered about the kids. Kids make noise. The vicar just spoke a bit louder. He was affable and lively. He didn’t preach or require. His sermon was all about openness and inclusiveness. He even made the point of saying that all religions were welcome in his church…

A bit odd, but I got the point he was making. This was no deeply religious service. It was, in a very old fashioned sort of way, a community gathering. And – even better – the faces there actually reflected the community it was in. We were in a part of town that has a significant ethnic minority population. They were there. It looked and felt like the kind of thing that brought people together during the war. Everyone seemed happy being there; they all seemed to be enjoying themselves. Especially when the hymns came: projected in huge font on one of the walls, so that no one had to fiddle around with books to read tiny writing, and then sing downwards. The result was a very effective chorus of voices.

After the service was over, the vicar once more invited everyone for tea and coffee, and said people are free to leave when they wish. Sure enough, many people did. I stayed for another drink, and so did many others. The vicar moved from group to group discussing things with everyone, getting to know people and offering friendly advice. But so did other people. There was a lot of mingling going on. Everyone was actually interacting. They weren’t waiting for the vicar to come and see them. It was a proper little community.

The whole event got me thinking. I am of the opinion that community spirit is as poor now in this country as it has ever been. Religion does not have the monopoly on community, but there is no doubt that it is one of the few institutions left in the country that can gather people together once a week to interact with each other. If done properly, of course. I have been to many church services that are nothing but a bully pulpit for the vicar/priest/whatever in question.

There are non-religious community events, of course. But they tend to attract a certain sort. You know the type: they’re old, retired and have little better to do. They also tend to be the people who have a lot to moan about.

But how could we ever kindle the spirit I witnessed in that event in any other surrounding? If I contacted every house in my area and told them that we’re going to have a community gathering on Sunday at 11am, the first question they would ask (if they hadn’t already politely closed the door) would be, “What for?”.

And to that, I would have no answer. Religion has a reason for its gatherings. Ostensibly to keep in touch with God and their faith. But it has numerous secondary benefits in terms of socialising and community that flow from its first principles.

With no answer, and no reason or pretext to gather people together, community cannot form.

In the modern secular society, this is the issue that must be resolved. People will not gather purely for its own sake. There has to be an excuse to do so.

Until we can find one, community spirit in this country is going to keep dwindling.

In the end, we won’t even know if there are people living next to us…

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Random Acts of (Un)kindness

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 4, 2009 @ 17:03

Just another day at the office...

Just another day at the office...

This morning I reached the end of the road for my short lived stint working in a petrol station. It caused me to reflect gravely on the state of the benefits system and society in general on my previous musings…

But now it has made me wonder just what has happened to the honest, decent people in life. Or maybe they never really existed?

In my time, I don’t think I met a single taxi driver who wasn’t on the fiddle. If it wasn’t not bothering with receipts, it was asking for receipts so they could write their own. Or, a classic trick, filling up one little amount, getting the receipt for that, and then filling up again with a much larger volume and pretending it had been “a quiet night”.

Too many taxi drivers on the road, they moan. But they still carry on doing it. I wonder why.

Meanwhile, the average Joe and Joette frequently went over on their fuel purchases. Not by much. 1p here, 2p there. It made me wonder how much of it was accident and how much was deliberate. But, in almost every case, they refused to pay the odd, or claimed they didn’t have it. And what could I do about it? These things added up, and would invariably cause a till to be £1 or £2 down by the end of the shift. That came out of my back pocket.

Then there was the unbelievable amount of theft, not just of fuel, but within the shop. People would rob you blind in front of your very eyes and then deny it. Once I had someone swipe a Magic Tree from a stand right in front of me. He did it as quick as a flash in the time it took for me to look down at the till to put the money away and get the change. And then had the brass neck to deny it.

Meanwhile, there was a boss who constantly stole wages from his employees, alleging they were “cash losses”. More likely it’s gone into his back pocket, as, apart from once, I never had an unexplained cash imbalance at the end of a shift. But he takes the illegal deductions anyway. We’ll see what an employment solicitor has to say about that.

In addition to that, the number of VAT fiddles and dodges was obscene. So was selling out of date stock. Not to mention the astronomical prices of everything anyway. And as for any extra pay on bank holidays? Forget it.

But on top of the lot was the behaviour of the customers. I always tried to be polite and say please and thank you but never got much in return. If ever there was even the slightest of delay it would cause immense aggression and made the customer think you owe them a favour because they’re the one sitting with your petrol in their tank, and I should be eternally grateful that they were actually prepared to pay for it.

Occasionally I’d get the odd customer who was very kind-hearted. And, for some odd reason, it would restore my faith in humanity.

Yet, it’s only with hindsight that I realise that that is completely wrong. Because, on the whole, these random acts of kindness were the only glimmers of what nice people were like. They were not reflective of humanity. The true representation of it can be summed up as impatient, narky, sarcastic, cynical and uptight.

Perhaps it was ever thus.

But in any case, it’s all a reflection of the sad world we live in now.

Small wonder it’s possible to die and no one notices for five years

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Obama and Race

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 17, 2009 @ 01:51

Such a thoughtful expression can only mean he's thinking about one thing: Daddy or chips?

Such a thoughtful expression can only mean he's thinking about one thing: Daddy or chips?

It sounds like it could be the title of a comedy double act, but, sadly, it’s not.

We know America has a racial problem. No – not the one of southern hicks who won’t vote for a black man. In any case, as last November demonstrated, it doesn’t run that deeply any more anyway.

But there is a problem from the perspective of the communities that form part of America: particularly the African American one, and others too.

The problem is one that was demonstrated so shockingly by the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina. I’m speaking of white America and its effective abandonment of parts of black America. The white attitude that ethnic minorities are to blame for their own problems of poverty and deprivation. The white argument that black people have just as many opportunities as white people but fail to take them through their own free will, and not of any remaining societal barriers that keep them down.

In some respects we touched upon this argument a few days ago when I wrote about the problems of working class neighbourhoods in the UK. But in America, the argument is seen through the prism of race – when perhaps it may owe just as much to class as the legacy of the racial divide.

Back when I wrote about the class issue, I said that the difficulty is in talking to those who are downtrodden and despairing, the fatalistic, and getting them to have realistic ambitions that they can aspire to and create an achievable plan to get them.

But where does any of this involve Obama? Well – if there’s a better placed person to talk to his own community and give them the lesson of the previous paragraph, I don’t know.

And so it has begun. Obama has begun a dialogue with the black community to tell them that the problems of his community are as much to do with individual lack of will and motivation as they are to do with society. As he calls it “a new mindset, a new set of attitudes”.

Obama’s message has always been one of personal salvation. That the individual can achieve a great deal if they aspire to it – and don’t merely accept the low expectations poured upon them by society – particularly in the case of those from a black background which, paraphrasing Obama a little, is very accepting of mediocre (or worse!) behaviour almost because that is what is expected of them.

I have read both of Obama’s books: and his message on race is always the same but very compelling. Yes, the black community have suffered greatly. But great strides have been taken to level the playing field. He admits that much more needs to be done… but at the same time implores that they do not fall into the victim trap and live a negative existence simply because of low self-esteem and low importance ascribed to them by society. That only by ridding themselves of this mentality will they begin to bridge the gaps that mean so few African Americans are in corporate boardrooms, etc. It’s difficult and tough, and they will suffer much along the way.

But as Obama has proved, it is achievable.

In many ways, Obama is trying to answer the chicken and egg dilemma with race relations. Can blacks only thrive when the society becomes less racist? Or will it only be when blacks thrive that society will finally lose its racist shackles? Obama’s answer seems to be to go with the latter: and implore the African American community to be the ones that take the first step to prove the doubters wrong, because no one else is going to do it for them.

Of course, he can say that, being in his lofty position. But the beauty of Obama saying it is that he can do it in a way no other American President has ever been able to. I mean, imagine if George Bush had told the black community that there are “no excuses” for not working hard.

Suffice it to say that it would have been explosive!

If Obama only achieves one thing with his Presidency, it will a signficant breakthrough in improving the engagement of African Americans in US society. That can only be a good thing.

But it is good that Obama and I are on the same wavelength about motivating people who have no apparent hope in life, even if we were talking about different targets. I think he might even have been reading my blog…

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Political Fuel

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 6, 2009 @ 23:58

Ask yourself: if you wouldn't live here, then why do we allow other people to?

Ask yourself: if you wouldn't live here, then why do we allow other people to?

As someone with too much time on his hands, I recently decided to exchange part of it for cash. I got on my bike and found a job. All because my self-employment has been feeling a bit like self-unemployment lately.

But no matter. Because my new job is one I’ve done before: a petrol station cashier. Working nights. In one of the most deprived parts of the country. It’s not ideal, but it pays the bills.

And yet… what surprises me so much is always the Friday and Saturday night shifts. They are an opportunity to peer through a rather revealing bulletproof glass window into the sheer abyss that passes for civilization in parts of this country.

For what I witness is generally not a pretty sight, dividing neatly between the workforce of the city, most of whom binge drink into oblivion, making a mockery of any claims that it’s only an irresponsible minority ruining it for the many; and the remainder of the customers are the feckless, the lazy, the unemployed, the ignorant, the uneducated, the unmotivated, the unaspirational. Usually all of those at once, in fact.

Harsh words from a so-called Lib Dem. Partly I’m trying and failing to be controversial. But as time has gone on, I’ve become less willing to make excuses for some of these people. Circumstances are indeed bad. Times are very tough. Living conditions are often very bad. Employment prospects are dim.

But underneath it all lies an element of fatalism. That life has dealt these people a bad hand, but they’re absolutely OK with that as it was “meant to be”. It’s not necessarily that there are no jobs; it’s more a fact that they don’t want to do anything with their lives and are very content to accept their lot and get on with it.

Nothing frustrates me more than such an attitude. And it’s this complete poverty of aspiration that must be challenged. That is the big political issue of the coming generation. It’s one the likes of Norman Tebbit thought he had the solution to all those years ago. But, as is often the case with most right-wing responses, they are too simplistic. They fail to appreciate the intense difficulty of the problem, deeply embedded into life and culture, which need more than just getting a job.

It’s all about giving people self-esteem. And yes, I do appreciate the bitter irony of saying such a thing after blasting them as lazy and feckless. It’s about inculcating in them the values of self-actualisation: that you don’t have to lie back and accept the hand you’ve been dealt. You have to go out there and do something about it.

That is where our benefits system is failing: it has allowed people to behave like that for too long.

But how the hell can we teach people to have more respect for themselves?

Politics is bloody tough. But this is the kind of thing that must be tackled head on.

This is what is really important. This is where left-right politics has failed for generations, providing neither equality of opportunity or equality of outcome. Or even any kind of egalitarianism. It’s merely a system of every man, woman and child for him/herself, financed by a supply of giro cheques to help ameliorate our guilt for allowing people to live like that in the first place.

Hmm. That almost sounds like an anti-capitalist rant to me. I’m getting dangerously anarchic in my old age.

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