We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

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As dependably arse-about-face as ever

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is like a compass-that-faces-south… always wrong but useful nevertheless because as long as he is dependably wrong, he can still be used when plotting a course.

His latest pearl of wisdom is the solution to reducing the numbers of children acting irresponsibly by engaging in violent crimes: Stop holding them responsible. His logic is hard to fault. If you deem than a child cannot be responsible for their actions, clearly they cannot therefore be irresponsible… voila… less children acting irresponsibly. In fact by definition no children can be said to have acted irresponsibly because the very notion of judging responsibility is disallowed. In a political and law-enforcement culture in which ‘that which is not measured never happened’, I can see the attraction of this approach. But then again Britain’s welfare state treats everyone regardless of their age like an irresponsible child, incapable or unwilling to look to their own pensions, medical care, etc. etc, so perhaps there is a bigger meme at work here.

It’s not to weaken the seriousness of what they do

… the Archbishop says, and then promptly weakens the seriousness of what they do by suggesting a child can cause the death of someone and get away with it, whereas an older person cannot. So how is that not weakening the seriousness of what the child has done? Also I am curious, how is taking away responsibility going to encourage more responsibility? Perhaps the following is what the Plod will be told to do:

PC Dixon of Dock Green: “Now look here, Little Timmy, it is very bad throwing rocks at people and killing them. If you do that when you are older, we will be very cross.”

Little Timmy from the Bedlam Estate: “Oh, okay then, I’ll just get it out of my system now while it doesn’t count.”

PC Dixon of Dock Green: “It’s a fair cop, Timmy, just don’t do it after you turn sixteen, okay?”

Little Timmy from the Bedlam Estate: “Nice hat, Copper. Hand it over.”

Oh, and mothers too, they also should not be held responsible for some reason. It is all down to too many bad movies and Britain’s ‘gun culture’, whatever the fuck that means in a country which probably has less civilian guns in total than almost any single US state other than the very smallest ones. I wonder of God’s Idiot would describe a nation without much in the way of musicians or musical instruments as having a ‘musical culture’?

However would we manage without the Church of England to guide us, eh?

11 comments to As dependably arse-about-face as ever

  • Fred the Fourth

    Only slightly OT, but the other day at the gym I burst out laughing and then had to explain that I always rely on the San Francisco Chronicle to provide at least one good laugh each day. I don’t have the article in front of me but I’m sure it can be found at sfgate.com.

    The gist: A career petty criminal was finally sentenced to 3 years. He had been known to the SF cops for at least 10 years, and had been arrested at least 50 times, mostly for breaking into cars for stuff. Hurray for the justice system! (Except it turns out he’ll probably serve no more than 14 months.)
    Several other similar crooks had their curricula vitae described, but funnily enough, I didn’t see any mention of time served. Typical number of arrests like the above, and some discussion of how many (i.e. few) days tended to pass between one being released and being arrested again.
    Head cop of the relevant division says, with disappointment, “They keep doing it. They do it for the money. But, THEY KNOW THE CONSEQUENCES!”

    Right. Pull the other one.

    (My sole solace was the thought that maybe the reporter/writer ended the article with this comment deliberately. Don’t laugh, it’s possible, even in SF.)

  • Saladman

    People who claim or imply that incarceration and a punishment mindset do not in fact deter crime have yet to come to grips with the complete and utter failure of the rehabilitation and sympathy mindset to deter crime or prevent recidivism. The majority of crimes are committed by repeat offenders. Even if people like Archbishop Williams were correct that punishment does not deter, at the very least imprisonment precludes recidivism for the length of the sentence. While rehabilitation and sympathy have been shown time and again to encourage and enable repeat offences.

    I’m a huge fan of the Second Amendment for reducing crime, but even John Lott, in advancing his argument that more guns equals less crime, admits that effective policing, which I understand to mean policing where the correct guilty subjects are identified, captured, tried, convicted and sentenced for their crimes, is at least as great a factor in reducing crime as gun ownership and carry rates. But it seems to me that if you short-circuit that process at any stage from beginning to end, you no longer have “effective policing.” (Of course, this view of policing is not guaranteed to do you any good at the moment of being the victim of crime, it just reduces overall crime rates.)

  • guy herbert

    People who claim or imply that incarceration and a punishment mindset do not in fact deter crime have yet to come to grips with the complete and utter failure of the rehabilitation and sympathy mindset to deter crime or prevent recidivism.

    I’m one of the former, but I agree about the utter failure (and sentimental stupidity) of much of the latter.

    The Archbishop, and the Childrens’ Society, for which he is fronting in this instance, are not normally considered fundamentalists, but they are engaging in caterogrical reasoning here: they attribute a priori some moral meaning to being “a child” defined in this case as less than 14 – without any reference either to the real social context or individual development. They are exculpating a class of persons of individual guilt. Given that many adult criminals are mentally and educationally subnormal, with less rational capacity than a middle-class 14-year old, then why not exculpate them too?

    Fred the Fourth’s point is good, more so translated to the less brutally punitive British system. The big problem is that criminal youths are habituated to the system and (despite the punitivity of the system in its conception concept), they know the consequences too well and find them entirely tolerable, indeed natural. The slow progress up the ladder of institutions, and the nature of the institutions themselves, is calculated to socialise them as criminals.

    In that much, His Grace has the right instincts: it is nuts to put bad children into the criminal fabrication process. However his prescription is all wrong: we need to abolish doli incapax as a presumption, retaining it only as a defence, as part of a complete revision of the criminal justice system, to make its processes – including its institutions – less hardening of the serially guilty and less bullying of the innocent. But we also have to deal with the child-protection industry – for which this sally looks loke a power-grab – and strip away the impunity in schools and elsewhere of ordinary naughty children sentimentalised as victims.

  • Nick M

    Picture Dr Williams with a few extra pounds, a red suit and a more jocular manner and you’ve got Santa Claus. Even this mythical character knew the difference between good boys and girls and bad ones.

    The whole “it ain’t there fault” breaks down entirely if you are ever faced with one of these malign urchins. they know what they’re doing, they know they shouldn’t and they also enjoy it immensely.

    I’m sure if pushed to explain this malice Dr Williams would blame the kids “environment” which is off course the fault of society and therefore the responsibility of the government so afterall everyone is to blame because we choose the government, right? but if everyone is to blame that is clearly the fault of the “environment” and we can eternally pass the buck round and round.

    And I thought Dr Williams was a believer in a religion which laid a strong emphasis on personal moral decisions. I mean that’s his job, isn’t it? Oh well, pass the tea vicar and how was that inter-faith workshop in the Canaries?

  • Banjo

    Small wonder Great Britain is the land of empty churches with a twit like this in a position of high ecclesastical authority.

  • guy herbert

    He’s not a twit. He really isn’t. But he is very deeply marinaded in the mildest left-liberalism; a non-evangelical Church of England theologian could scarcely be otherwise.

    Banjo should be comforted (though I suspect from his comment he won’t be) that Britain is getting on for the least religious country in the world, and that Archbishop of Canterbury is a position one of high formal status and precedence but almost no authority. We are fortunate not to have any religious authorities wit big influence in public life.

  • Paul Marks

    Guy it is quite true that athiest philosophers have managed to give ethical advice – indeed often there ethics have been very good.

    However, the vast majority of humanity are not and have never been in the habit of taking ethical advice from athiest philosophers. It is heroic assumption to assume that they will take such guidence in future.

    So the choice is not between reglious moral leadership and athiest moral leadership – it is between religious ethical guidence and no guidence (tradition, whatever you want to call it) at all.

    In short it is problem for the leading clerics in a nation to be so wrong headed.

    “One can not justify religion by pointing to the consequences of lack of religion, God either exists or he does not”.

    True enough, but this does not alter the problem of religious leaders undermining themselves and most other people by the mistaken “liberal” principles they themselves have been taught.

    Eventually the moral void of modern life will be filled – but I doubt it will be filled by the teachers of athiest philosphers (however good these teachings are). It will be filled either by a come back for Christianity (traditional Chriistianity) – or by some other religion, such as Islam.

    “Liberal” Christianity, like Progressive “liberalism” generally, is just the road to the void. It helps destroy civil society, but in doing so it destroys itself and makes way (eventually) for something else.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    There is a lot to be said in favour of people who are consistently wrong on certain issues; I wish the Archbishop could give me his views on the stock market – we could make a bloody fortune betting against him.

    I think he is, in his muddled, oh so English way, a rather good man, but I fear that Dr Williams personifies the image of the wooly-headed, slightly confused CoE prelate. A shame, since although I am not a believer, I have come to think of the CoE as rather like a friendly force in English life.

  • Nick M

    I don’t know. I believe the destruction of civil society is much more of a political process than a societal one. I don’t see a moral void in modern life per se. I see big and surperficially compelling ideas like “equality” and “equal rights” and “entitlement” and apparatchik, quasi-techocratic utilitarianism leading to that void. They really are appealing because they appeal to the base instincts of envy and also a perverted form of fairness.

    Hell, when I was a kid I bought (sort of) them – “Maggie Thatcher milk snatcher” and all that. Then I grew up.

    But, I don’t fundamentally see this as being caused by a decline in religion. There may be an argument to the converse – don’t say grace, thank the state instead but I don’t buy your central thesis.

    I suspect though that a belief in certain absolute standards is important and the lack of them has lead to the mess we’re in. Those standards need not be religious though. I was thinking of things like the US Constitution. I suspect that has insulated to an extent the US from what has happened in Europe more than higher levels of church attendance.

  • Nick: I am not necessarily disagreeing with you, but seeing as you brought up the US constitution, I’d like to point out that most Americans are quite religious, as opposed to most West Europeans, including Brits. Just something to consider.

  • Paul Marks

    The United States Constitution is a different subject.

    One could argue (I am NOT saying that I do) that Civil Society was fairly strong in the United States in 1936 when most voters rejected the principle of limited government for which the Constitution stands (i.e. 60% of the voters voted to reelect a man who had wiped his backside on the Constitution).

    These days I doubt that anything like 40% of the people would support this principle – or have even read the few pages of the Constitution. When people tell them that the Congress may spend money for the “general welfare” they nod (if they do anything), they either do not know or do not care that the “common defence and general welfare” is the purpose of the specific spending powers granted to Congress not some catch all “general welfare spending power”.

    Still this is, as I said, a different subject.

    “Liberal” religion is about “social justice” or the “social gospel” Nick.

    The oldest error – the dream of building Heaven on Earth.

    The denial of God as a being – thinking of God as “society” or “the people” instead.

    In terms of everyday morality it is about the denial of personal responsibility and the demand that “society” (in this context meaning “the state”) do X, Y, Z – and is responsible for good or bad actions of individuals.

    Of course this has a political side – but the denial of morality (as traditionally understood) also has direct effects.

    And no people can not get day-to-day moral guidence from reading the Constitution.

    “Liberal” religion does destroy itself in the end – but it helps destroy the rest of Civil Society also.