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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

A letter to the Guardian

I thought this ought to be shared here:

Dear Ms Featherstone

I think the people who should truly say sorry for such events are the opinion leaders of the Guardian. Please allow me to explain.

Last week I visited (as a doctor) a family in a council estate. The mother was concerned about her 12 year old son. She was very pleased that her older son was now on incapacity and would therefore do well for himself in terms of money. There is nothing wrong with this older boy that makes him incapacitated, but that is another story. She also had a 14 year old daughter, who while I was there, constantly argued with her mother demanding money for cigarettes. The three children had three different fathers, all absent. The kids, while I could see were still children, gleamed with malignant insolence. I can see them turning into damaged adults. I feel sorry for the trap they are in – the trap created directly by the welfare state whereby the family, and all those in the neighbourhood, see welfare as a lifestyle option. They live in squalor but have more wealth than most people I knew in India; they certainly have more material comforts than I ever had growing up in Delhi.

The Guardian describes such families as poor. The Labour party wants to throw money at the family. The Guardian readers blame Margaret Thatcher for this state of affairs, smug in their modern pieties, their intellectual laziness, and their stupidity masquerading as sanctimonious concern. I used to work with slum children in Delhi; they had very little, but even the most physically disabled amongst them made an effort.

There is no hope for Britian. Civilisations dont die, they commit suicide. And before they commit suicide, they read and believe the Guardian.

I truly and deeply feel sorry for all the children who are the victims of the welfare state. Things are much, much worse for the slum children in India, I saw more dignity among them and certainly greater hope.

I am not sure if you will understand this message. I am too tired to explain further. Either you will get or you wont. Either way, it will make no difference to anything.

I think I know how he feels.

via Old Holborn

56 comments to A letter to the Guardian

  • Ian B

    The problem with this “we are being dragged down by the untermenschen” theory is it’s bollocks. I’m sorry, but there’s no other way to put it. It’s a popular theory, it has a long history, and everybody loves it, because however crapulent they may be it gives them somebody else to look down upon. One popular modern variation is that they are the result of the welfare state. This is popular among libertarians and conservatives. The welfare state has created these people, they say, and they will be the death of us all. Civilisations commit suicide, they wisely counsel. These are the harbingers of our doooooooooom.

    Well, like all libertarians I’m no fan of the welfare state (although unlike many I would get rid of it last, after we’d freed everything else up and thus given people something to actually achieve with their newfound freedom), I don’t approve of redistributionism or the idea that people are owed anything by society. I’m not trying to defend welfarism here. I think it causes a cartload of woes.

    But.

    If you actually look at history you find that the people described here have always existed. Some people called them the lumpenproleteriat. A popular term in the 19th century was the residuum. Others defined them as “the undeserving poor”. They predate the welfare state. They were in existence when Britain was the centre of the world’s largest ever empire. And they were, in many ways, the root cause of socialism.

    Why? Because it became a fad in the 19th century for the bourgeois with too little to do to start trying to think up ways to cure the residuum of their residuumality. A whole bevy of clutches of bored upper middle class tossers formed, an entwined charitable clique. Some wanted to ban the Demon Drink and formed temperance societies. Others decided it was a matter of hygeine and eagerly set to eradicating the slums, and replacing them with new slums called “council estates”. A whole bunch of them decided it was that the untermenschen breed like flies and came up with a cute idea called eugenics. This was the first era of progressivism, that ultimately spawned the Fabians and are the spiritual ancestors of New Labour. They were the ones who decided that the only way of saving society from the rising tide of scum was a massive government that would reform them by saving them from themselves, and killing or sterilising the ones concluded to be beyond reform. There never was this golden age when everyone lived in sober hard-working God-fearing families driven by the work ethic. It didn’t happen. It’s made up. There was a time when most people did; but then most people still do.

    So the whole idea is the wrong way round. It’s bollocks.

    Popular bollocks, appealing bollocks, but bollocks nonetheless.

    Awkward to read Google Books book with some stuff on this.

  • There is no hope for Britain while people spell Britain as Britian

  • And I don’t think the gentleman who wrote the comment on a Guardian blog post subscribes to the strawman theory you expound above. The relevant point is his comparison of the British council culture to the slums of Delhi and the way people trapped in empoverished circumtances behave.

    And may I point the obvious regarding the lumpenproletariat and the underserving poor. I do not recall that at any point in history their ‘lifestyles’ have been subsidized by the government/taxpayers money.

  • Ian B

    What strawman is that Adriana? I’m not sure if you’re accusing me of strawmanning, or somebody else.

  • dr kill

    Woof. The point being at no other time in history were such people so subsidized by their fellow citizens.

  • Ian B

    The doctor quoted quite clearly is claiming that the welfare state is the cause of the nature of their existence. While it is right to say that other people should not be taxed to subsidise them, that causal claim simply isn’t true; because if it were, then they would have come into existence after the creation of the welfare state. I argued above, and I think it is quite clearly true, that they predate the welfare state and were a large part of the justification of socialism and welfarism. As such, they cannot be blamed for the “death of (our) civilisation” since such wastrels were a feature of the height of said civilisation, except back then they bought their bathtub gin entirely with the proceeds of thievery, prostitution and whatever they got from the Poor Law or charity. Fretting about career paupers is nothing new, but it seems every generation believes they’ve just been invented.

    I apologise for going off a bit on this with all the “bollocks”. The post came across as ruder than intended. I’m just a bit tetchy at everyone turning into Daily Mail readers because of one horrible crime. There are going to be other horrible crimes in the future, guaranteed; appalling, shocking acts which will dominate the news, just as there always have been. Much of the massive growth of the state has been justified by the excessive prominence given to black swans. If people in the past had been less hysterical about the underclass, we wouldn’t all be now labouring under the yoke of the massive progressive state.

  • Your remarks make little sense at all to me Ian. Are you saying the Doctor is a liar and the examples he gives are fabrications? Are you saying that the persistence of a parasitic underclass is a not due to perverse incentives of the welfare state? What relevance does the Victorian underclass to the Welfare State’s underclass have when the context in which they exist/existed is utterly different?

  • I think you’re missing the point, Ian. It’s not that such people have always existed – they have. It’s the fact that there are so many more of them than there used to be. You may as well point out that crime has always existed. It’s the nature and scale of a problem that’s important.

    And that’s where the welfare state comes in.

    (I’d disagree with your characterisation of the Victorian age too. While there were plenty of ‘do-gooders’ about, the people who had the biggest problem with the ‘lumpen’ aka underclass were the respectable working poor who lived closest to them. You might not be a liberal, but you seem to subscribe to the liberal “Myth of the Myth of the Golden Age” alright. Who built all those chapels in Swansea ? And who attended them ? It wasn’t the middle classes.)

  • Ian B

    I think my point is quite clear, Perry, and I stated it at some length. It is that the underclass are a persistent phenomena which are entirely irrelevent to whether our civilisation is dying or not. I don’t know why they persist, nor do I have a good answer for why they came into existence, but they seem to be a constant. Ever read about the gin panic? That was the same mob in the 18th century, long before the perverse incentives described came into existence. A better theory might be that the underclass is a consequence of mass urban industrial society. It seems to predominate in anglospheric nations. Is it a consequence of capitalism? Damned if I know. It’s no use touting a theory that X is caused by Y, except when Y is not present it’s caused by something else.

    This is all part of the Baby P hysteria. It’s an appalling case, but it doesn’t have anything much to add to anyone’s pet social theories, since it seems to be due to the behaviour of a domineering murderous psychopath. Hitler was a domineering murderous psychopath. Was he caused by the welfare state as well?

    I didn’t claim anywhere that the doctor is a liar; merely that his conclusions don’t seem to be a natural consequence of the evidence he presented.

    Did you see my point that upper class fretting about the underclass is what drove the first great pulse of socialism and got us into this sorry statist state?

  • Ian B

    It’s the fact that there are so many more of them than there used to be.

    There are many more people in general than there used to be. Whether the slumdwellers of today are a greater proportion than when Jack The Ripper was stalking them, I couldn’t say. But I can say that people tend to ascribe greater significance to the present than the past, because they don’t have to live in the past and can thus see it through rosey spectacles if they like. The jolly chirpy Artful Dodger and so on.

    While there were plenty of ‘do-gooders’ about, the people who had the biggest problem with the ‘lumpen’ aka underclass were the respectable working poor who lived closest to them.

    I don’t know how you’d prove that, since a look at the memberships of the various reform societies will show them to have been a rather exclusive, upper class hobby.

    Who built all those chapels in Swansea ? And who attended them ? It wasn’t the middle classes.)

    Religious puritanical nutballs, and the people they ruled with the Fear Of God, so far as I know; though I must admit to not a single Google before typing this sentence.

  • lucklucky

    Great quote:
    “Civilisations dont die, they commit suicide. And before they commit suicide, they read and believe the Guardian.”

    Ian B lack of resources and knowledge… none of that is present today for those that wish to get out of slump.

  • ‘The Underclass’ has always existed and will always exist, thats a given. The point that I think is being made is that we are actively encouraging its growth at the moment by allowing those who rob us with our permission to subsidise it.

    I grew up in what many would percieve as a middle class family (my father was a computer programmer and my mother a nurse, both professions rather than trades if that’s how you measure these things) and I remember wondering why all the scabby kids from the council estates whose parents didn’t work had satellite TV, a new car every year or so, and better toys and games than me. Now I know that my parents paid for them, just as I pay for them now.

    I know entire families who haven’t worked for three generations (or if they have it was casual, under the radar work which they were paid in cash for). I was at school with kids who didn’t even try because they knew that they didn’t have to because they would live on benefits for the rest of their lives and said as much.

    All this may be anecdotal to you, but I know these things from my own experience. It is not a myth.
    They don’t work because they don’t have to. They don’t learn because they don’t have to work. They know the welfare system better than many who administer it, but that is all they know. We feed, clothe and house these people and alot of the time are sneered at for it. ‘Society’ sees their need as being of greater importance than our ability, so they take from us to give to them.

    Why should they benefit from my hard work? Why should they have all the nice things in life without having to earn them, whilst I scrimp and save to buy shoes for my son?

    I say cut them off and let them rot, but then its too late for that now isn’t it? There would be riots, violent crime would rocket, and our society would tear itself apart. Though thinking about it…

    As to the Baby P debacle, I agree with IanB. Its a random, horrifying event. More statism isn’t going to prevent another one, neither is it going to bring the poor kid back to life. Put it down and leave it alone. String the bastard who did it up by all means, but don’t go looking for anyone to blame beyond him.

  • Eddie Willers

    The Indian doctor, has, methinks, been reading the works of another good doctor.

  • veryretired

    There is a critical element of the letter writer’s critique that has been lost in this discussion—it wasn’t poverty or the existence of the poor that the writer was concerned with, but rather their bizarre attitudes towards themselves and the social systems that maintained them.

    I thought the most telling comment was when he stated that, while Delhi’s poor were worse off, they showed more dignity in their approach to life.

    The calamitous state the letter’s author is referring to is that best described as being a “ward of the state”.

    In the US, the two groups most thoroughly enmeshed in this snare are native americans and african-americans, although the elderly are close to joining the club.

    By every demographic, the most decimated and disadvantaged members of our society are these very groups which have so long “enjoyed” the privilege of being a special project of the government.

    Native americans were long ago, mistakenly, classified as members of a tribe, to be treated communally instead of individually. Their rights as citizens evaporated, as well as their opportunities for developing themselves as functioning members of the larger society.

    African-americans have been the object of a special legal status from slavery to segregation to modern “helping” programs for centuries. The tragic result is a community in chaos, whose young members die by violence at a rate several orders of magnitude higher than any other, and whose rates of social achievement lag by seemingly uncorrectable amounts.

    As I have stated in other contexts, the progressive’s “War on Poverty” could easily, and more realistically, been called the “War on Young Black Men”.

    It is the attitude of entitlement to state handouts, coupled with the lack of belief in the possibility of individual achievement, that has consigned these disparate groups of people to a life of pointlessness and frustration.

    In fact, pointlessness and frustration are the only possible results of being a possession of the state, whatever it is called, instead of a functioning, independent, productive human being.

    Such is the inevitable fate of the “ward”.

  • guy herbert

    A small contextual point.

    It isn’t a letter to The Guardian, it is a comment on Lynne Featherstone’s Comment is Free piece. Lynne (who is one of the more liberal (philosophical sense) Liberal Democrat MPs) no more represents The Guardian viewpoint than I do when I write for Comment is Free. She does represent the area where this happened, a place of public affluence and private squalor like several other London boroughs.

    I don’t know that it would have made the letters pages.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Why? Because it became a fad in the 19th century for the bourgeois with too little to do to start trying to think up ways to cure the residuum of their residuumality. A whole bevy of clutches of bored upper middle class tossers formed, an entwined charitable clique. Some wanted to ban the Demon Drink and formed temperance societies.

    Up to a point, Lord Copper. What you say is undeniably true. I can recommend this book which backs up that assertion.

    But….

    Incentives matter. The reason why libertarians and some conservatives attack it is for how, in some of its ways, the WS undermines work incentives and penalises beneficial behaviours.

    Of course some of the people complaining about the masses are misanthropic power freaks. But some quite clearly are not. Not everything is about class and the evil designs of bourgeois man to run the lives of the oppressed proletariat, Ian.

  • Cosmo Damian Asam

    The untermenschen, as they have been called, are the new leisured class, like rentiers or pre-Revolutionary French nobility.

    The working class, properly meant, comprise people like me who, ah, work.

    As has been pointed out, it is wrong to suppose the welfare state created the family described by the Indian doctor. Such people have always existed. Whether in such numbers is another matter.

    But the doctor is I think right to forecast disaster: a nation whose diminishing numbers of workers are compelled to immolate themselves to keep the feckless leisured warm in their double-glazed cocoons is heading for violent civil friction or atlas shrugging.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Sorry, I meant to put in this link(Link) in my comment above.

  • Ian Bennett

    Ian B said

    If you actually look at history you find that the people described here have always existed.

    This is, of course, true; thus it was necessary that various manifestations of the Poor Law distinguished between the deserving and the undeserving poor. Later, the Charity Organisation Society did the same for non-State provision. The point is, though, that the Welfare State as it now exists makes no attempt to do so. Benefit dependence as a lifestyle choice is not discouraged, far less prohibited. The Welfare State didn’t create the phenomenon, but unlike its predecessors it does perpetuate it.

  • If we pay people to sit on their arses, drinking stella and watching Trisha all day, then guess what they will do?

    The Welfare state has just replaced Nationalised industries as a place to keep warm and fed all day long with no effort.

    It certainly kept the Soviet citizens quiet for 80 years.

  • I wrote this on Saturday. The problem is that most humans seem to be quite content to be vegetables growing fatter in the fertilizer distributed by the caring government.

  • Ian B

    Not everything is about class and the evil designs of bourgeois man to run the lives of the oppressed proletariat, Ian.

    Heh, as you may have guessed I’m increasingly of the opinion that it pretty much is. (Thanks for the book link by the way- although I haven’t read the book, that which can be seen of it on Amazon does indeed I think feed into my conceptual framework). I appreciate that some of what I’ve written on this post, and the council housing post, makes me look like some kind of crypto-communist so I’ll attempt to explain myself.

    Like many people I think it is very important to understand how we got here; where the mess that libertarians seek to escape or overthrow came from. I’m trying to think of a pithy way to describe my view; and the best I can come up with is that the history of the last couple of centuries (or more) is a sustained, grotesquely disastrous, attempt by certain elements of the ruling classes (the bourgeoisie if you like) to hammer the population into a particular mould which suits their needs and ideals. We have lost liberty because individual liberty just doesn’t suit them very well. Various things have been tried, from harsh coercion (the progressive reformers) to bribery (marxist redistributism) and all that happens is failure.

    I’ve argued before that one of my views is that social engineering isn’t just undesirable or prone to failure, but more than that is intrinsically impossible and will always be overwhelmed by unintended consequences. The more you fix things, the more they break. I would suggest an analogy with entropy; you can only create order in one place by increasing disorder in others, and this might be the only social “science” which is of any use to us. The only conclusion that a social science can draw is that society should be left alone to do its own thing, just as the only conclusion of economics is that the economy should be left alone to do its own thing. In either case, intervention appears to create order but this is an illusion; it creates greater disorder in other parts (of society, or the economy) which create chaos. As we’re seeing with the economy right now.

    But because of this illusion of local order, people just can’t stop interfering, thus creating more disasters down the road. So I am suggesting that on a general principle, social disorder is a direct consequence of attempts to impose social order- it is not “a failure to impose it sufficiently”. For instance, attempts to reduce drinking actually lead to more disordered drinking as drinkers seek ways around the imposed order. If you stop young people drinking in a normal way, e.g. in the pub, they’ll go and sink tinnies in the park and the result will be worse. Which is a trivial example, but I hope it gives an idea.

    So, for instance, the ruling class want(ed) a society in which the masses live their lives of sober drudgery, work all week and church on sunday etc. Which is really fucking boring. The result is a rebellion against that; a desire to get out of that regimented life and thus we get people “exploiting the fringes”. They will often put far more effort into conning the welfare system, thieving and operating in the black market than would be required by a normal job, from my anecdotal observations and it’s because they’re trying to live outside “the system”. Now please note I’m not suggesting that the average chav is some kind of noble crusader for individual liberty; merely that they look at the narrow range of legitimate options and say, screw that.

    I was struck by a film I watched recently in which a young black guy (face obscured, kind of thing) explained that he’d once had a job, but it was dull and crap, so now he sold drugs, had a nice car and money and women and the gangsterism was a worthwhile trade for those things. He said “I’m going to get rich or die trying”. We can disapprove of his being a gangster, but we can also see a strange kind of Randian ethos at work here. He wants to be a success. He sees he has more chance of that dealing drugs than working a crap job. He’s made a rational economic decision!

    I’m also reminded of Sean Gabb in his Culture War noting that many workers, in large corporations, are entirely removed from the economy. They have no idea of how the market works; they’re no different from people toiling in Stalinised industries in the USSR. They live a life of extreme conformity, blindly carry out tasks of no interest to them, they get ahead by internal politics of the corporation, which internally is effectively a communist command economy. They get security in return for suffering this dull, constrained existence. It’s no wonder they aren’t libertarian. They haven’t got a clue what it is to freely trade or be free individuals. And I have to add a certain personal bias here; I’ve always been a non-conformist in this regard; spent most of my life trying to avoid doing such corporate type jobs, and the few years I spent in the big corporate world (as an engineer, which is far freer than a desk job) I found to be almost excruciatingly unbearable. For me, it was like being in a communist country for 9 hours a day, a succession of company polo shirts eerily reminiscent of those uniforms Maoists all wear. Is it any wonder that people try to avoid such drudgery by exploiting others? Is it any wonder when they look at a ruling class living by parasitism (look at the asshats in government who’ve never produced a thing in their lives) that they decide they’ll be parasites too?

    Now clearly I hope I’m not supporting this mass parasitism. I want an end to the welfare state too. But we shouldn’t, I believe, believe that the answer to that is hammering everyone into dull conformity. A libertarian society must, I believe, be a place of great diversity, and would naturally be so, in which the paths to personal success would be many. It wouldn’t just be “get a job”; indeed we need to abandon the whole current ideology of employer and employee, boss and worker. It’s a philosophy directly descended from the idea of master and slave, lord and serf, and bring with it all manner of baggage regarding duties and responsibilities which needs to be jettisoned. We need to start seeing every individual as a trader (bad term, can’t think of a better one). Not “get a job”, but “if you do or make things of use to other people, they will do or make things of use to you”. And neither the state nor do-gooding committees will care, or be aware, of whatever things you do so long as you’re not infringing on the liberties of others (as understood by libertarians generally) when you do them.

    I seem to be rather unfocussed again, this is why I don’t have my own blog because I’m crap at writing organised articles, heh. The point I’m trying to get across here is that the societies in which we live are far too rigid; the great and the good define particular paths to personal success and try to force everybody onto them. For instance, you can get a degree, you can climb the greasy pole in a corporation. It is harder and harder for the individual to start a business in their garden shed; to make a living just informally trading; to do a bit of this and a bit of that. There are conveyor belts, and if you fall off them at some point you’re going to have a very hard job catching up. People give up. People don’t even bother trying. Hopelessness sets in.

    But people are natural traders, natural capitalists, natural innovators, and we hammer it out of them with these miserable attempts to engineer social conformity. The more we follow either a socialist or tory attempt to force “social cohesion” from above, the worse it’s going to get. Only if we can learn to resist that urge, and allow society to rebuild itself from below, by freeing people again to make their own way in life, whatever way suits them, are things going to start getting better. Or at least stop getting worse.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Ian B, that was a long comment so I’ll try and keep things brief on this busy Monday:

    Class theories that seek to explain everything end up explaining nothing much at all, as one can see with the dead end to which Marxism led. That is not to say that it cannot be useful in framing some issues, of course.

    One issue is this: do the members of what we might regard as the “enemy class” think of themselves as belonging to a coherent, identifiable set of the population, with clearly-defined shared interests? I dunno about that. I think it probable that there are a lot of people who have a vested interest in continuing the regulatory state, in resisting its rollback, and who of course profit from the moral/cultural/other panics of the day. But I am not sure if what passes for today’s elite has a strong class consciousness in the way the old working class did.

  • Ian B

    Johnathan, I appreciate that it looks from that long but not well worded comment that I’m trying to create a theory of everything. I’m not :)

    I don’t think there is a single ruling class with a strong class consciousness; rather a complex shifting collection of groups (“classes” perhaps) acting out of their own self interest but who tend to pull in the same direction, simply because anyone who gains power tends to do the same kinds of things to try to keep it- one of which for instance might be pulling up the ladder to prevent others challenging them. I’m not suggesting a conspiracy, just the natural consequences of this power struggle. It’s in the interests of every dominant group, whoever they may be, to attempt to frustrate new kids on the block; a large corporation wants entry barriers to new businesses- a powerful union wants the same entry barriers to safeguard their members’ jobs with that big corporation. Even though corporation and union are “enemies” they often share the same interests. And so on.

  • Millie Woods

    Ian B said – The more you fix things, the more they break. I would suggest an analogy with entropy; you can only create order in one place by increasing disorder in others.

    Does any sentient being believe this tosh? I spent a lot of my years in academe trying to convince the young folk that their hermeneutically sealed vision of the wicked, wicked world we live in is a somewhat misleading interpretation of the way things are.

    Just look at how idiotic these sentiments are. The more you fix things the more they break – tell that one to the orthopedic surgeon who’s fitting you with a cast.

    And the entropy lark about creating disorder by imposing order. Please.

    These are the shoddy slipshod memes currently engulfing our institutions of higher so-called learning and the nonsense has to stop.

    To misquote the Beatles – all that I’m asking is to give common sense a chance,

  • Millie Woods

    Ian B said – The more you fix things, the more they break. I would suggest an analogy with entropy; you can only create order in one place by increasing disorder in others.

    Does any sentient being believe this tosh? I spent a lot of my years in academe trying to convince the young folk that their hermeneutically sealed vision of the wicked, wicked world we live in is a somewhat misleading interpretation of the way things are.

    Just look at how idiotic these sentiments are. The more you fix things the more they break – tell that one to the orthopedic surgeon who’s fitting you with a cast.

    And the entropy lark about creating disorder by imposing order. Please.

    These are the shoddy slipshod memes currently engulfing our institutions of higher so-called learning and the nonsense has to stop.

    To misquote the Beatles – all that I’m asking is to give common sense a chance,

  • Ian B

    I’ll also add that in the past the picture was simpler; you could define fairly comprehensively a “ruling class” as the aristocracy and the church (although the church was not the State, by having power over mens’ souls they exercised similar levels of authority and power). The industrial revolution brought a class of industrial capitalists up to join and to various degrees displace them. The picture now is far more complex than that of course.

  • Ian B

    Well thanks for that Millie. It’d be nice if you’d thought about what you were saying for a moment though. Do you actually have a scientific understanding of entropy, or are you just typing the first thing that comes into your head?

  • pst314

    “Do you actually have a scientific understanding of entropy…?”

    Do you? As someone with a degree in physics I’d like to ask for a moratorium on attempts to apply concepts from the physical sciences to sociology, psychology, economics, politics, etc. (Starting, of course, with relativity and quantum mechanics.)

  • Ian B

    Consider a phase space containing all possible future states of the social system. Now consider phase space volume representing those states which would correspond to a “success” of a particular social policy. Note that the volume of this class of states is dwarfed by the occupied volume of the phase space as a whole.

    I can do another one with Gordon Brown and Call Me Dave throwing darts at a dartboard blindfold, if you like.

    What’s so wrong with analogies all of a sudden? Are we generalising Godwin’s Law to everything?

  • OT:

    I seem to be rather unfocussed again, this is why I don’t have my own blog because I’m crap at writing organised articles, heh.

    Starting your own blog will help you do that. Its simply a matter of practice.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Ian B, I take it you have read the “forgotten man” piece by the late 19th century writer, William Sumner. If you haven’t you should. It chimes with a lot of what you say.

  • mike

    I see you Ian – your style in no way hinders my grasp – and Millie Woods is not paying attention to the context of your remarks. I’ll give you 7/10 for that effort, at least.

  • Paul Marks

    There is a decline in civil society – there is a vast amount of evidence to show this.

    However, any and all forms of decline in civil society will be taken by “the Guardian class” (most of the academics and those they educate) as a reason for yet more statism.

    Most of them really do not understand that it is statism (welfare statism) that is the cause of the decline of civil society.

    A minority of the left do understand that statism is the cause of the decline of civil society and welcome this decline.

    These are the leftists who are evil, rather than misguided.

  • Rob

    “it is wrong to suppose the welfare state created the family described by the Indian doctor. Such people have always existed.”

    The Welfare State isn’t the sole cause of the disfunctional family structure which dominates the British underclass, but it is a major one. The destruction of just about every social taboo in British culture means that men can now father serial children and not face the consequences, knowing that the state will step in and finance their irresponsibility.

    Would ending the Welfare State end the self-selected single parent family? Quite probably, but it would take one or two generations, and the social upheaval would be immense and no government has the balls to face down the liberal establishment and do it.

    As for restoring some of those taboos and cultural rules, e.g. taking responsibility for your actions, providing for your children (financially and as a father), etc no state can restore that, let alone a state which is ideologically opposed to such a culture, believing it to be oppressive. Such a culture can only be rebuilt from the bottom up. In the nineteen century the main driver was religion, what will drive it now?

  • Tim S

    Ian B, todays “underclass”, as you refer to it, is not the same beast as yesterdays. Yesterday’s poor had no choice but to work for a living. Even that Dickensian criminal class you allude to had to work hard at what they did.

    The difference today is that one can sit on one’s fat ass all day long and have the necessities of life brought to you. That, is what leads to the poverty of spirit, and that is what is different about the relative poor in the age of social welfare compared to previous times.

  • Millie Woods

    Ian, FYI, I first heard the entropy notion at the Unibersity of Montreal where my students quoted Jeremy Rifkin to me which had been quoted to them by their poli-sci profs. Not knowing what entropy was I asked my aerospace engineer husband if what they were saying had any validity. He said the Jeremy Rifkin take sounded like a lot of codswallop to him and since both you and I haveprobably flown on planes which used engines for which he was the project engineer I tended to take his word rather than Jeremy Rifkin’s.
    Furthermore, I can’t see anything in my post apart from probably disagreeing with you to make you so angry.

  • ‘The Underclass’ has always existed and will always exist, thats a given. The point that I think is being made is that we are actively encouraging its growth at the moment by allowing those who rob us with our permission to subsidise it.

    And this, not the fact ‘the poor will always be with us’ (which I think is self evident and close to irrelevant), is actually the relevant issue here.

  • Ian B

    Millie-

    “Does any sentient being believe this tosh? […] Just look at how idiotic these sentiments are…”

    Wasn’t the politest way to disagree with me.

    I just looked up Jeremy Rifkin and his views seem to be antipodal to mine, since he’s of the leftie green nutballist type. His views indeed seem like codswallop to me too. I have no idea what he said about “social entropy” but I’d suspect it’s rather different to what I said above.

    I used entropy as an analogy. It is a fact (ask your husband) that in order to decrease entropy you must increase entropy elsewhere. This is how your refridgerator works; it reduces the temperature (entropy) inside by warming (increasing entropy) outside. Reach around the back and feel the compressor. it’s that black bulbous box thing that hums.

    Now as I said, it was an analogy. Entropy is the scientific term for order (or disorder, rather). Since we are discussing social disorder, or I am anyway, mumbling here to myself in the corner of the snug, it’s a somewhat appropriate analogy I think. It is interesting to note that everyday speech regarding social order/disorder is often couched in entropic terms. For instance, we talk about the need to “let off steam”, suggesting an image of a buildup of entropy. A person has been in a very ordered place (the workplace or school perhaps) and then needs to “let off steam” at the weekend to counterbalance that ordered phase. I was suggesting for instance that such impositions of order do indeed require a more disordered phase at another time and place. It’s intersting to note for instance that troops- who have to be the most ordered of all- have a reputation for the most disordered behaviour off-duty. So in a general sense, I am suggesting that it is impossible to order all of society, because the need to let the steam out will find other places to manifest, which will probably be more disordered than if you’d let things be. And if you manage to keep the disorder entirely contained, people will just go loopy. All work and no play makes Jack a prime case for a nervous breakdown. And, as we note in the economy, attempts to impose order lead to vast amounts of disorder elsewhere; such as the latest market collapse.

  • Ian B

    The point, Perry, is that the doctor in the quoted posting claimed that (a) welfare had created the class of people he described and (b) this was a direct cause of a psychopath torturing a baby to death, the first of which claims isn’t true and the second of which is ridiculous.

  • And before another long screed takes out collective breath away, the entire point of the ‘letter to the guardian’ post is that he correctly, in my view, identifies the source of the evil. The Guardian’s editors’/journalists’ mindset that shapes their readership’s thinking about the poor and the way to deal with poverty. And how it informs the confused and twisted actions and policies that ensure that poverty won’t go away but is ‘rewarded’ instead. As my esteemed fellow contributor on this blog, Brian Micklethwait, often points out – in practice, giving someone money because they are poor and paying them to be poor is indistinguishable.

    Guy, the ‘letter to the Guardian’ title is deliberate. I know it is a comment on a guardian blog post, after all I linked to it in the post, but what does that matter? Are you making a rather metaphysical point that a letter is not a letter unless it’s published by the Guardian?! Methinks not. The title is trying to emphasise that the commenter is blaming the ideas and ideology as propagated by the Guardian…

  • Laird

    Ian B, I pretty much agree with everything you said in that long post. And I do like your entropy analogy (Millie notwithstanding); personally, I tend to use “the law of unintended consequences” instead, but it gets you to the same place.

    But what I disagree with is your statement that libertarians’ answer to the welfare state is “hammering everyone into dull conformity.” That’s about as far from the truth as you could get. I don’t care about “conformity”, and I don’t think you or anyone else here does, either. “Do what you want as long as you don’t hurt anyone else” is the antithesis of “conformity.”

    So while I appreciate your history lesson, the reference to Sean Gabb, and your explanation of why career welfare sponges are in fact societal nonconformists trying to create a little excitement in their humdrum lives or to achieve some measure of “success” on their own terms, I don’t see what any of that has to do with your original post, or to your objection to complaining about the clearly deleterious effects of the current welfare system. In previous discussions I got the sense that you put welfare reform low on your list of things to correct in our society because we need to keep those people happy while we get the rest of our house into order. I can respect that position (without necessarily agreeing with it). But even after reading that torrent of words I still don’t understand why you find criticizing the current welfare system objectionable, when its evils are so apparent to anyone who will look with honest eyes.

  • Ian B

    Adriana, I’ll say this again. Whether it is right to give out welfare is an issue for libertarians and an important one, and we’re all agreed that it isn’t right and bally well ought to be stopped. But it’s a long leap then to identifying welfare as the “source of the evil”, which is to say that this man killed this baby because welfare exists. This is ridiculous. Maybe if Josef Fritzl was on welfare we’d be blaming his terrible crimes on it too. Were Hindley and Brady on welfare? Come on.

    Everyone’s using this case to join in the perennial moral panic about the underclass and get their oar in about welfare. It has nothing to do with welfare. A man tortured a baby to death. That’s it.

  • But it’s a long leap then to identifying welfare as the “source of the evil”, which is to say that this man killed this baby because welfare exists.

    I don’t recall anyone anywhere doing that?! Are you sure you are on the right blog/reading the same as we are?

    Something must have triggered you off but it sure as hell wasn’t the good doctor’s comment…

  • Ian B

    Adriana, the Guardian article is titled “who will resign for Baby P?” and the commenter then gives his explanation for the “events” as being welfare creating families of the type involved, including a mention of “children who are victims of the welfare state”. He’s saying that Baby P’s family were the way they were because of welfare, and that’s why Baby P died. It’s trying to draw a particular and dubious social lesson from a horrific black swan event. It’s the whole point of his comment.

  • “They predate the welfare state.”

    Damn right they do, if you mean in the sense of predation.

  • Gabriel

    Ian B’s point is wrong for an obvious reason. The “undeserving poor” and “the residiuum” do not preced the welfare state because we have a had a welfare state of sorts since Edward VI. What we haven’t had is a behemoth welfare state and, shock horror, it seems to have co-incided with the emergence of a behemoth underclass. Personally, I think the Poor Law has a lot to be said for it (much more than the system Lord Melbourne and the unthinking Benthamite Liberals introduced) and I even believe it compatible up to a point with the Tory Anarchism I go in for. However, it certainly did sustain and perpetuate something of an underclass, especially in areas where it was maladministrated (i.e the areas where the local gentry had least control and the government had most).

    Anyway, it’s silly, if enhoyable, blithering on about the Victorians et al. Sometimes things get better, sometimes they get worse. This problem has been getting worse for 50 years and it is one of the things that Thatcher really did nothing to solve (though I don’t, I hasten to add, blame her in any positive sense). This is no co-incidence because one of the big doozies Thatcher did nothing to solve was – along with the NHS, State/progressive education, by which I mean mostly Comprehensive schools and Europe – was the Welfare State. Not a co-incidence.

    Theodore Dalrymple is very powerful on this.

  • Gabriel

    This is not to say that in many ways members of the underclass are less unpleasant to deal with that the contemporary middle classes. True, it was people with parents on benefits that beat me up at school, but it was usually people who’s parents were well heeled liberal shitforbrains that I wanted to beat up.

  • Gabriel

    You know what I hate? I hate that switch in my head that only allows me to notice egregious grammar mistakes after I’ve hit post and I can see the page loading.

  • You and me, Gabriel, you and me. But I can edit mine out. If you are nice, I might do that to your comment too, but then, spelling mistakes make us so human, n’est-ce pas? :)

  • WalterBoswell

    bah wee!

  • dirk larsen

    You’ve got a point there!

    Dirk

  • Saladman

    Ian B:

    The simple and profound (and I believe obvious) difference between the old lumpenproletariat and the new welfare class is incentives in the form of transfer payments from producers. You get more of behavior that is subsidized, and less of behavior that is penalized. The implication that there are no more underclass citizens than there were before the welfare state is laughable. In total numbers and in cultural confidence the welfare class is approaching a critical mass that it will be difficult to recover from.

  • Ian B is almost right. Welfare is not the problem as much as the culture it has created. By which I mean scrapping the whole thing wouldn’t help for at least a generation. In that sense the useless poor are a problem outside of the welfare-state.

    But it’s obvious that scrapping (or doing something to the purpose) with welfare is needed. Going back to Adriana’s original post… These people are not poor in the sense that Indians or Africans are poor. I know, I’ve lived alongside them. This is the relative poverty of driving a seven year old car, not a new one or having (the horrors) a telly with a tube in it.

    The real shark-jump moment for me with welfare was W. W was a bird I knocked around with in Leeds. She was on everything and had by any rational level a higher standard of living than moi on my PhD studentship. She’d had a messy divorce and was on the sick fot PTSD (you know like what squaddies get when they see their entire platoon turned to dog-food by Abdul’s pyrotechnics) and the real shark-jump moment was…

    OK. This was 1999 and I had a knackered old 386 which I couldn’t afford to upgrade. W had just had a handsome cheque from Kind Joe to buy her son a laptop. They were pricey back then. Why? Her earstwhile hubby had a computer and seeing as the kid lived between their homes (free, natch, and better than the den of iniquity I had) it was ruled unfair that he couldn’t have a computer at his ma’s but could have one at his pa’s. It was deemed to skew the relationship you see. So he got a nice new Dell and I’m stuck with the thing Noah did the accounts of the bleeding Ark with.

    Oh I mentioned a PhD. It was in computational astrophysical fluid dynamics. The AFD group (all three of us) had two computers between us and we had a fucking need for them beyond some farcical sob-story.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if they were in it together to screw the system.

    Then there was C. She was just down the road from me in the “house for fallen women”. There were four of them in their (my identical student gaff had seven of us) and that was free and on the council. C (17) and her parents had manufactured a falling out to get her the gaff. It was an utter doozy – she was on excellenet terms with her folks. It’s just that at her age I was also thinking of getting a place of my own and my scheme was to get into a good university. The idea of me and my parents conspiring to create a feud and lying through our teeth to do it never occurred.

    Welfare alone doesn’t do this. Welfare + time does. This is not a quick fix because welfare has cascaded down the generations. There are grannies right now teaching the little ‘uns how to game the system and if there’s a laptop in it then why not? It is ingrained. Did C or W think they’d done wrong. No. They played the game they knew in exactly the same way I play Civ IV. There are no right or wrong plays, just good and bad ones.

  • This is the first time I’ve come across Samizdata, but it won’t be the last: some very thoughtful comments posted and it’s comparatively free of the sort of yah boo insults between contributors that one gets in many others.

    I, too, am of the view that the law of unintended consequences screws up the most well-intentioned exercises in social engineering. It is interesting (though probably quite wrong) to note that the Indian sub-continent was exploited by the East India Company for the purpose of making money whereas large parts of Africa were colonised in order to promote Christianity. In the first instance, the intentions were ‘bad’, in the second they were ‘good’. On the whole, though, India seems to have benefited from its trade links with the West rather more than Africa. (It’s probably quite wrong in that quite other factors have been at work in each instance.)

    We do need to take a long hard look at the dependency culture we have created. The boring cliche that to give a man a fish is to feed him for a day but to teach him to fish is to give him a livelihood still has some power.

    We need to consider how we educate the next generation rather carefully. We seem to have forgotten what education is for. The word education has become not only synonymous with school it has become confused with it.

    Education in the 21st century is fundamentally the same as it was in the 19th century – except that it is now applied to everyone instead of the minority elite. The curriculum is very little different from a hundred plus years ago; it is academic arcane and abstract – and bewilderingly irrelevant to at least 50% of young people. It is learning for learning’s sake, fostered by that protestant and non-conformist work-ethic that holds that if it hurts it must be good for you. It was designed for the people who would be ‘in charge’. On that basis it worked very well for the perpetuation of stability where the upper classes played, the middle classes held the ring and the working classes … worked to produce the useful things that could be sold and create the wealth that kept the whole thing going.

    With each successive turn of the control screw by central and local government school education has become more and more irrelevant to those for whom ‘left brain’ logical, abstract thinking is difficult.
    School leaves them in no doubt that they are ‘failures’, ‘thickos’ and ‘no-hopers’. Given that outlook it is hardly surprising that, since the system has let them down, why should they support the system? Why not take advantage of the welfare state? It seems to be what ‘they’ (the rest of us) want them to do…

  • Gabriel

    Education in the 21st century is fundamentally the same as it was in the 19th century – except that it is now applied to everyone instead of the minority elite. The curriculum is very little different from a hundred plus years ago; it is academic arcane and abstract – and bewilderingly irrelevant to at least 50% of young people. It is learning for learning’s sake, fostered by that protestant and non-conformist work-ethic that holds that if it hurts it must be good for you. .

    Uhh, no it isn’t. I wish it was, but it isn’t. You appear to be insane, or typing from the 1950s, though the latter, if my understanding of technological history is correct, is unlikely.